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Books  by  Randall  Jar r ell 





LOSSES  1948 





POETRY  AND  THE  AGE  1 95  3 




Randall  Jarrell 



Essays  Sc  Fables 

Atheneum  :  New  York 

these  essays,  in  a  shorter  or  earlier  form,  have  been 
printed  in  The  Saturday  Evening  Post,  Figaro,  Daedalus, 
The  American  Scholar,  Art  Neivs,  Mademoiselle  and 
The  New  Republic;  and  in  The  Anchor  Book  of  Stories, 
The  Best  Short  Stories  of  Rudyard  Kipling,  Understand- 
ing Poetry  and  Wilderness  of  Ladies.  The  author  grate- 
fully acknowledges  permission  to  reprint. 

Copyright  ©  1962  by  Randall  Jarrell 
Copyright  1938,  1950,  ©  i960  by  Holt,  Rinehart  and 
Winston,  Inc.;  copyright  1953  by  The  Art  Foundation 
Press,  Inc.;  copyright  ©  19$$  by  Street  and  Smith  Pub- 
lications, Inc.;  copyright  ©  1959  by  The  Curtis  Publish- 
ing Company;  copyright  ©  19s 9  by  the  United  Chapters 
of  Phi  Beta  Kappa;  copyright  ©  i960  by  Eleanor  Ross 
Taylor;  copyright  ©  1961  by  Doubleday  &  Company,  Inc. 
All  rights  reserved 
Library  of  Congress  Catalog  card  number  62-11681 
Published  simultaneously  in  Canada  by 
McClelland  &  Stewart  Ltd. 
Manufactured  in  the  United  States  of  America  by 
Kingsport  Press,  Inc.,  Kingsport,  Tennessee 
Designed  by  Harry  Ford 
First  Edition 




To  /kfaij 

The  Author  to  the  Reader 

I've  read  that  Luther  said  (it's  come  to  me 
So  often  that  Fve  made  it  into  meter) : 
And  even  if  the  world  should  end  tomorrow 
I  still  would  plant  my  little  apple-tree. 
Here,  reader,  is  my  little  apple-tree. 








STORIES  1 4° 







The  Intellectual  in  America 

Th  e  philosopher  Diogenes  lived  in  a  tub  in 
the  market  place.  He  owned  the  clothes  on 
his  back  and  a  wooden  cup;  one  morning,  when  he 
saw  a  man  drinking  out  of  his  hands,  he  threw 
away  the  cup.  Alexander  the  Great  came  to  Athens, 
and  went  down  to  the  market  place  to  see  Diogenes; 
as  he  was  about  to  leave  he  asked:  "Is  there  any- 
thing I  can  do  for  you?"  "Yes,"  said  Diogenes,  "you 
can  get  out  of  my  light." 

At  different  times,  and  in  different  places,  this 
story  has  meant  different  things.  The  ages  and 
places  that  have  venerated  wisdom,  reason,  lovers 
of  wisdom — most  ages  and  places  have  done  so — 
have  listened  to  the  story  and  thought  with  wonder- 
ing delight:  "The  things  a  man  can  do  without!" 
Alexander  may  have  owned  Greece,  Asia  Minor, 
and  part  of  Africa,  but  there  was  nothing  he  could 
do  for  Diogenes  but  move  over  and  let  the  light  fall 
on  him.  What  is  real  in  the  world:  that  is  what  we 
must  learn,  Rilke  wrote.  Diogenes  had  learned;  so 
that  he  could  no  longer  be  tipped  or  bribed  with 


a  The  Intellectual  in  America 

Greece,  Asia  Minor,  and  part  of  Africa — with  what 
the  world  thought  reality,  and  he  illusion.  He  had 
remained  in  his  place,  the  place  of  wisdom,  and 
had  put  Alexander  the  Great  in  his  place,  the  place 
of  power. 

But  when  our  age,  our  country,  listens  to  the 
story  of  how  Alexander  stood  in  Diogenes'  light, 
it  asks  perplexedly:  "What  was  he  doing  there?" 
Why  should  a  statesman,  a  general,  make  a  sort  of 
pilgrimage  to  a  poverty-stricken  philosopher,  an 
intellectual  of  the  most  eccentric  kind?  We 
wouldn't.  Most  of  us  distrust  intellectuals  as  such: 
we  feel  that  they  must  be  abnormal  or  else  they 
wouldn't  be  intellectuals.  This  is  so  plain  that  a 
magazine  like  Variety  can  call  our  time  "the  era 
when  to  be  accused  of  having  some  intellect  is  tanta- 
mount to  vilification";  Brooks  Atkinson,  after  not- 
ing that  the  American  Psychological  Association 
"has  made  the  same  point  in  more  technical  lan- 
guage," can  conclude  that  "a  passion  for  ignorance 
has  swept  the  country."  These  passions  never  last; 
it  is  the  settled  marriage  of  convenience  that  trou- 
bles an  American.  A  historian  like  Henry  Steele 
Commager  can  say  that  "the  historian  of  the  future 
who  chronicles  this  decade  will  be  puzzled  by  the 
depth,  strength,  and  prevalence  of  our  anti-intellec- 
tualism,"  and  can  refer  to  "the  vague  aura  of  guilt 
that  surrounds  association  with  academic,  intellec- 
tual, literary,  and  reform  societies."  When,  a  few 
years  ago,  men  like  McCarthy  or  Westbrook  Pegler 
attacked  or  made  fun  of  a  man  like  Dean  Acheson, 

The  Intellectual  in  America  5 

they  used  as  one  of  their  most  effective  points 
against  him  the  fact  that  he  had— gone  to  Harvard.* 
Would  their  English  or  French  or  German  counter- 
parts have  been  able  to  use  Oxford,  the  Sorbonne, 
or  Heidelberg  in  the  same  way?  Nor  is  it  a  question 
of  party:  plenty  of  Democrats  would  have  done 
the  same  thing  to  a  Republican  Secretary  of  State; 
and  when  General  Eisenhower  defined  an  intellec- 
tual as  "a  man  who  takes  more  wordsj^a^isjiejces- 
sary  to  tell  more  than  he  knows,"  he  was  speaking 
not  as  a  Republican  but  as  an  American. 

Haven't  people  got  the  story  of  Diogenes  and 
Alexander  backward?  Didn't  Diogenes  wait,  and 
wait,  and  wait?  and,  finally,  go  to  Macedonia  and 
get  his  Senator  to  make  an  appointment  for  him 
with  the  Emperor?  and  didn't  the  Palace  Secretary 
say  to  the  Senator,  after  seeing  the  week's  schedule: 
Miss  Macedonia,  and  the  President  of  the  Mace- 
donian Federation  of  Labor,  and  the  House  Com- 
mittee on  Un-Macedonian  Activities,  and  a  dele- 
gation from  the  Macedonian  Legion— didn't  the 
Secretary  say  to  Diogenes'  Senator,  as  politely  as 
he  could:  "The  Emperor  is  a  practical  man,  and 
has  no  time  for  philosophers"? 

And  then  Diogenes  went  back  to  Athens.  He 
had  always  been  alone  in  his  tub  but,  somehow, 

*  The  reader  will  murmur  with  a  smile:  "That  someone  has 
gone  to  Harvard  has  rather  a  different  point  in  1962."  Yes, 
doesn't  it?— the  same  point  that  it  had  in  1932  or  '42,  under  the 
second  Roosevelt.  Which  of  the  points  will  it  have  in  1972  or 
'82?  The  tide  goes  in  and  the  tide  goes  out,  but  the  beach  stays 
sand  and  the  sea  stays  salt— and  it  is  the  sand  and  the  salt  that 
I  am  writing  about. 

O*  The  Intellectual  in  America 

he  hadn't  felt  lonely:  he  had  had  for  company  the 
knowledge  that  someday  Alexander  would  come — 
had  had  for  company  people's  good  will  or  good- 
humored  indifference,  their  surprised  or  amused 
admiration,  their  resigned  immemorial:  "We  may 
not  have  the  sense  or  the  time,  but  someone  has  to 
be  wise."  But  now  it  was  different.  A  Voice  said 
to  Diogenes,  like  the  voice  of  God:  "If  some  are 
wise,  then  others  must  be  foolish:  therefore  I  will 
have  no  one  wise." 

The  Voice  went  on:  "You  highbrows,  you  long- 
hairs,  you  eggheads,  are  the  way  you  are  because 
there's  something  wrong  with  you.  You  sit  there 
in  your  ivory  tower" — but  really  it  was  a  tub; 
where  would  Diogenes  have  got  the  money  to  buy 
a  tower? — "pretending  you're  so  different  from 
other  people,  wasting  your  time  on  all  these  books 
nobody  buys,  and  all  these  pictures  my  six-year-old 
boy  can  draw  better  than,  and  all  these  equations  it 
takes  another  egghead  like  yourself  to  make  heads 
or  tails  of — why  don't  you  get  wise  to  yourself  and 
do  what  I  do,  and  say  what  I  say,  and  think  like 
I  think,  and  then  maybe  I'd  have  some  respect  for 

It  was  hard  for  Diogenes  to  know  what  to  an- 
swer; and  when  he  looked  at  his  tub,  it  looked 
smaller  and  dingier  than  it  used  to  look;  and  when 
he  looked  at  the  philosophy  that  had  grown  out 
of  the  tub,  he  felt  about  it  the  way  an  old  Chinese 
poet  said  that  he  felt  about  his  poetry:  that  if  he 

The  Intellectual  in  America  y 

wrote  one  of  his  poems  on  a  cookie  and  gave  it  to 
a  dog,  the  dog  wouldn't  eat  it. 

What  could  Diogenes  do?  Some  people  say  he 
changed;  changed  until  he  was  exactly  the  same  as 
everybody  else,  only  more  so.  Before  long,  people 
say,  he  owned  the  biggest  advertising  agency  in 
Greece — or  else  it  was  the  biggest  broadcasting 
company.  Or  else  both.  People  respected  him,  then. 
And  every  four  years,  late  in  the  summer,  Alexan- 
der the  Great  would  come  to  see  Diogenes;  and  as 
he  was  about  to  leave  Diogenes  would  ask:  "Is 
there  anything  I  can  do  for  you?"  and  Alexander 
would  answer:  "Well,  yes.  There're  these 
speeches."  Then  Diogenes  would  write  his  speeches. 

But  some  people  say  that  Diogenes  kept  on  the 
same  as  before,  only  he  kept  hearing  voices — not 
voices  exactly,  but  this  Voice — and  kept  looking 
uneasily  at  people,  as  if  they  were  about  to  do  some- 
thing to  him  or  say  something  about  him,  when 
really  they  weren't  paying  any  attention  to  him  at 
all,  except  sometimes  to  laugh  at  him  or  to  wonder 
to  each  other  whether  maybe  he  wasn't  a  Commu- 
nist or  else  just  crazy.  There  was  a  feeble-minded 
man  in  the  market  place  that  people  used  to  laugh 
at  and  make  jokes  about,  but  people  had  got  too 
civilized  to  make  jokes  about  something  like  that 
any  more,  and  they  made  them  about  Diogenes  in- 
stead. And  if  you  were  a  politician  and  something 
happened,  you  could  blame  it  on  Diogenes,  part  of 
the  time — so  he  was  useful  to  people,  in  a  way;  and 

o  The  Intellectual  in  America 

sometimes  Diogenes  discovered  things  or  invented 
things — penicillin,  and  television,  and  hybrid  corn, 
and  tensor  analysis,  and  the  hydrogen  bomb — and 
wrote  books  and  painted  pictures  and  composed 
music  and  did  all  sorts  of  things  that  if  you  put  a 
practical  man  in  charge  of,  a  business  man,  you 
could  make  a  lot  of  money  out  of.  The  trouble  with 
him  wasn't  that  he  was  useless,  exactly;  it  was  more 
that  he  was — different. 

One  night  Diogenes  woke  up  and  couldn't  get 
back  to  sleep;  he  shifted  back  and  forth  in  his  tub, 
and  repeated  poems  to  himself,  or  said  equations, 
or  thought;  finally  he  just  lay  there.  And  the  Voice 
said  to  him,  louder  than  he  had  ever  heard  it  before: 

"You  are  free  to  think  differently  from  me  and 
to  retain  your  life,  your  property,  and  all  that  you 
possess;  but  you  are  henceforth  a  stranger  among 
your  people.  You  may  retain  your  civil  rights,  but 
they  will  be  useless  to  you,  for  you  will  never  be 
chosen  by  your  fellow  citizens  if  you  solicit  their 
votes;  and  they  will  affect  to  scorn  you  if  you  ask 
for  their  esteem.  You  will  remain  among  men,  but 
you  will  be  deprived  of  the  rights  of  mankind. 
Your  fellow  creatures  will  shun  you  like  an  impure 
being;  and  even  those  who  believe  in  your  inno- 
cence will  abandon  you,  lest  they  be  shunned  in 
their  turn.  Go  in  peace!  I  have  given  you  your  life, 
but  it  is  an  existence  worse  than  death." 

.  .  .  But  these  last  sentences  were  not  said  to 
Diogenes  by  some  imaginary  Voice,  but  were  writ- 
ten a  hundred  and  twenty-five  years  ago  by  Alexis 

The  Intellectual  in  America  g 

de  Tocqueville.  This,  he  said,  is  what  public  opin- 
ion in  the  United  States  says  to  the  man  who  dis- 
agrees with  it.  Many  of  this  historian's  statements 
about  our  country  have  a  frightening  and  prophetic 
truth;  and  the  passage  of  time  has  not  altogether 
falsified  the  sentences  which  I  have  quoted.  But 
things  as  they  are  in  gross  and  confused  reality  are 
better  than  things  as  they  were  in  Tocqueville's 
clear  and  penetrating  imagination:  he  has  created 
something  which  reality  approaches  as  a  limit.  The 
American  Diogenes  is  far  better  off  inside  Des 
Moines,  or  Jersey  City,  or  Los  Angeles,  than  in- 
side Tocqueville's  terrible  sentences.  He  can  be- 
come a  celebrity,  and  be  treated  like  other  celebri- 
ties: we  are  willing  to  treat  Hemingway  and 
Faulkner  as  we  treat  Elvis  Presley  and  Marilyn 
Monroe.  And  nowadays,  after  all,  there  are  other 
people  like  Diogenes,  some  of  whom  say  to  him: 
Brother;  there  are  people  who,  even  if  they  are  not 
themselves  intellectuals,  are  willing  for  someone 
else  to  be;  and — just  as  there  are  people  who  dislike 
Negroes  or  Jews  or  the  Irish,  but  who  like  good 
Negroes,  good  Jews,  good  Irishmen,  ones  who  are 
hardly  like  Negroes  or  Jews  or  Irishmen  at  all — 
there  are  people  who  dislike  intellectuals  but  are 
willing  to  like  a  good  intellectual,  one  who  is 
hardly  like  an  intellectual  at  all.  And,  too,  there  are 
the  people  of  the  rest  of  the  world,  most  of  whom 
tolerate,  respect,  admire  even,  intellectuals;  it  is  a 
consolation  to  American  intellectuals  to  know  that 
their  situation  is,  in  some  degree,  a  singular  one. 

j  q  The  Intellectual  in  America 

They  have  suffered  this  misfortune:  they  are  live, 
differing,  individual  human  beings  who  have  been 
put  into  a  category  that  is  itself  a  condemnation,  of 
a  kind — who  are  described  sufficiently,  people 
think,  by  an  indicting  stereotype.  There  is  no  way 
for  them  to  free  themselves  of  it.  If  we  meet  an 
honest  and  intelligent  politician,  a  dozen,  a  hundred, 
we  say  that  they  aren't  like  politicians  at  all,  and 
our  category  of  politician  stays  unchanged:  we 
know  what  politicians  are.  If  a  man  thinks  women 
men's  intellectual  inferiors,  and  keeps  coming  across 
women  smarter  than  himself,  he  murmurs  that  the 
exception  proves  the  rule,  and  saves  for  the  first 
stupid  woman  he  meets  the  scornful,  categorizing: 
"Women!"  We  are  this  way  about  nationalities, 
faiths,  races,  sexes — about  cats  and  dogs,  even.  And 
just  as  there  are  anti-Semitic  Jews,  women  who 
despise  women,  there  are  intellectuals  who  enjoy 
attacking  other  intellectuals  for  being  intellectuals. 
(Big  fleas  have  little  fleas  to  bite  'em,  especially 
when  the  little  ones  know  that  they  are  going  to  get 
applauded  by  the  dog.)  And  other  intellectuals  be- 
have badly  in  other  ways.  It  would  be  odd  if  they 
didn't.  A  looked-down-on  class  always  gets  some 
of  its  bad  qualities  simple  from  knowing  that  it  is 
being  looked  down  on;  the  calm  and  generosity  and 
ease  of  the  justly  respected  are  replaced,  often,  by 
the  uneasy  resentment  of  the  unjustly  condemned. 
Toynbee  says  that  the  Turks  took  it  for  granted 
that  the  "Franks"  among  them  possessed  those 
qualities  which  the  Franks,  at  home  in  Europe, 

The  Intellectual  in  America  1 1 

considered  ghetto  qualities.  If  you  have  been  put  in 
your  place  long  enough,  you  begin  to  act  like  the 
place.  Some  of  the  intellectual's  faults  are  only 
our  imagination,  and  some  are  our  fault,  and  some 
are  his  fault.  But  his  faults  and  his  virtues,  all  his 
qualities,  are  more  varied  than  we  say.  He  is  smart 
sometimes,  stupid  sometimes;  ingenuous,  disingenu- 
ous; nice,  awful;  so  that  we  can  say  with  perfect 
truth  about  this,  as  about  so  many  things:  "The 
more  I  see  of  intellectuals  the  less  I  know  about  the 

We  are  all — so  to  speak — intellectuals  about 
something.  General  Eisenhower  is  an  intellectual  so 
far  as  military  strategy  is  concerned:  he  has  been 
taught,  has  taught  himself,  has  read  and  thought  and 
done,  all  the  things  that  enable  him  to  speak  a  lan- 
guage, think  thoughts,  make  discriminations,  that 
only  other  such  intellectuals  can  fully  understand 
or  appreciate.  If  you  want  to  be  impressed  with 
what  an  unintelligent  amateur  you  are,  with  what 
trained,  intelligent,  and  discriminating  intellectuals 
the  professionals  are,  sit  in  a  hotel  room  with  some 
coaches  scouting  a  game,  and  hear  what  they  have 
to  say  about  the  football  game  you  thought  you 
saw  that  afternoon.  It  takes  a  lot  more  than  not  be- 
ing an  intellectual  to  be  right  about  anything.  Peo- 
ple are  intellectuals  about  all  kinds  of  things:  if  you 
know  all  about  engines,  why  look  with  resentful 
distrust  at  someone  who  knows  all  about  string 
quartets?  Intellectuals  are  more  like  plain  Ameri- 
cans than  plain  Americans  think;  plenty  of  them  are 

j  2  The  Intellectual  in  America 

plain  Americans.  And  if  they're  complicated  ones, 
different,  is  that  really  so  bad?  My  daughter  was 
telling  me  about  a  different  boy,  a  queer  one,  whom 
all  the  other  children  looked  down  their  noses  at. 
I  said,  "How's  he  so  different?"  She  said,  "Lots  of 
ways.  He — he  wears  corduroys  instead  of  blue 
jeans."  Forgive  us  each  day  our  corduroys. 
A  Plain  Americans  enjoy  telling  Diogenes  what 

^f#     they  think  of  him;  it  would  be  interesting  to  know 
0       what  he  thinks  of  them.  It  is  plain  that,  whether  or 
not  they  like  him,  he  likes  them:  he  no  longer  de- 
^  spairs  and  flees  to  Europe,  but  stays  home  and  suf- 

fers fairly  willingly — is  fairly  thankful  for — his  na- 
tive fate.  Living  among  them  as  he  does,  he  can 
hardly  avoid  realizing  that  Americans  are  a  likable, 
even  lovable  people,  possessing  virtues  some  of 
which  are  rare  in  our  time  and  some  of  which  are 
rare  in  any  time.  But  if  he  were  to  talk  about  the 
faults  which  accompany  the  virtues,  he  might  say 
that  the  American,  characteristically,  thinks  that 
nothing  is  hard  or  ought  to  be  hard  except  business 
and  sport;  everything  else  must  come  of  itself.  Toc- 
queville  said  almost  this,  long  ago:  "His  curiosity 
is  at  once  insatiable  and  cheaply  satisfied;  for  he 
cares  more  to  know  a  great  deal  quickly  than  to 
know  anything  well.  .  .  .  The  habit  of  inattention 
must  be  considered  as  the  greatest  defect  of  the 
democratic  character."  And  he  goes  on  to  say  that 
the  American's  leaders — whom  Tocqueville  calls, 
oddly,  his  courtiers  and  flatterers — "assure  him 
that  he  possesses  all  the  virtues  without  having  ac- 

The  Intellectual  in  America  I  -> 

quired  them,  or  without  caring  to  acquire  them." 
Diogenes  could  say  to  us:  "You  are  not  willing  to 
labor  to  be  wise — you  are  not  even  willing  to  be 
wise.  It  would  be  a  change,  and  you  are  not  willing 
to  change:  it  would  make  you  different  from  other 
Americans,  and  you  are  not  willing  to  be  different 
from  them  in  any  way.  You  wish  to  remain  exactly 
as  you  are,  and  to  have  the  rest  of  the  world  change 
until  it  is  exactly  like  you;  and  it  seems  to  you  un- 
reasonable, even  perverse,  for  the  rest  of  the 
world  not  to  wish  this  too." 

All  this  is  very  human.  But  it  is  very  human, 
too,  for  the  rest  of  the  world,  Europeans  espe- 
cially, to  be  afraid  that  we  shall  be  successful  in 
transforming  them  into  what  so  many  of  them  be- 
lieve us  to  be:  rich,  powerful,  and  skillful  barbari- 
ans, materialists  who  neglect  or  despise  things  of 
the  mind  and  spirit.  The  American  way  of  life,  to 
many  Europeans,  means  McCarthyism,  comic 
books,  Mickey  Spillane,  et  cetera,  et  cetera,  et  cet- 
era. If  we  say:  "But  they  aren't  the  real  America," 
and  name  the  scientists  and  artists  and  scholars  who 
seem  to  us  the  real  America,  these  Europeans  will 
answer:  "They!  Why,  you  look  askance  at  them, 
attack  or  make  fun  of  them — how  gladly  you 
would  be  rid  of  them!"  Then  we  shall  have  to  ex- 
plain that  they  are  taking  a  few  remarks  too  seri- 
ously: that  our  country — the  most  advanced,  tech- 
nologically and  industrially,  that  the  world  has  ever 
known — has  to  depend  for  every  moment  of  its 
existence  upon  the  work  of  millions  of  highly  edu- 

j  a  The  Intellectual  in  America 

cated  specialists  of  every  sort.  We  may  not  praise 
them,  but  we  use  them.  Where  should  we  be  with- 
out the  productions  of  intellectuals,  the  fruits  of 

Perhaps  we  need  to  let  our  allies  know  more 
about  American  culture,  so  that  they  can  feel  more 
as  if  they  were  accompanying  a  fellow  and  less  as 
if  they  were  following  a  robot.  Perhaps  we  need 
to  let  more  of  our  own  people  know  about  it  and 
share  it.  Nobody  ever  before  had  so  much  money 
to  spend,  so  much  time  to  spend — do  we  spend  it 
as  interestingly  and  imaginatively  as  we  might?  Is 
what  Tocqueville  said  so  long  ago,  true  today:  that 
Americans  "carry  very  low  tastes  into  their  ex- 
traordinary fortunes,  and  seem  to  have  acquired  the 
supreme  power  only  to  minister  to  their  coarse  and 
paltry  pleasures"?  Is  it  true  that  "the  love  of  well- 
being  now  has  become  the  predominant  taste  of  the 
nation"?  Do  Americans,  democratic  peoples  in  gen- 
eral, need  nothing  so  much  as  "a  more  enlarged  idea 
of  themselves  and  their  kind"? 

The  Founding  Fathers  of  our  country  were  men 
who  had  an  "enlarged  idea  of  themselves  and  their 
kind";  they  had  for  themselves  and  us  great  ex- 
pectations. Franklin  and  Jefferson  and  Adams  were 
men  who  respected,  who  labored  to  understand, 
and  who  made  their  own  additions  to,  science  and 
philosophy  and  education,  the  things  of  the  mind 
and  of  the  spirit.  They  would  have  disliked  the 
word  intellectual,  as  we  may  dislike  it,  because  it 
seems  to  set  apart  from  most  men  what  it  is  natural 

The  Intellectual  in  America  1 5 

and  laudable  for  all  men  to  aspire  to — our  species 
is  called  homo  sapiens;  but  they  would  have  ad- 
mitted that,  if  you  wanted  to  use  the  word,  they 
were  intellectuals.  To  look  down  upon,  to  stigma- 
tize as  eccentric  or  peripheral,  science  and  art  and 
philosophy,  human  thought,  would  have  seemed  to 
them  un-American.  It  would  not  have  seemed  to 
them,  even,  human. 

That  most  human  and  American  of  presidents — 
of  Americans — Abraham  Lincoln,  said  as  a  young 
man:  "The  things  I  want  to  know  are  in  books;  my 
best  friend  is  the  man  who'll  get  me  a  book  I 
ain't  read."  It's  a  hard  heart,  and  a  dull  one,  that 
doesn't  go  out  to  that  sentence.  The  man  who  will 
make  us  see  what  we  haven't  seen,  feel  what  we 
haven't  felt,  understand  what  we  haven't  under- 
stood— he  is  our  best  friend.  And  if  he  knows  more 
than  we  do,  that  is  an  invitation  to  us,  not  an  indict- 
ment of  us.  And  it  is  not  an  indictment  of  him, 
either;  it  takes  all  sorts  of  people  to  make  a  world 
— to  make,  even,  a  United  States  of  America. 

The  Taste  of  the  Age 

Wh  e  n  we  look  at  the  age  in  which  we  live 
— no  matter  what  age  it  happens  to  be — 
it  is  hard  for  us  not  to  be  depressed  by  it.  The 
taste  of  the  age  is,  always,  a  bitter  one.  "What  kind 
of  a  time  is  this  when  one  must  envy  the  dead  and 
buried!"  said  Goethe  about  his  age;  yet  Matthew 
Arnold  would  have  traded  his  own  time  for  Goe- 
the's almost  as  willingly  as  he  would  have  traded 
his  own  self  for  Goethe's.  How  often,  after  a  long 
day  witnessing  elementary  education,  School  In- 
spector Arnold  came  home,  sank  into  what  I  hope 
was  a  Morris  chair,  looked  round  him  at  the  Age 
of  Victoria,  that  Indian  Summer  of  the  Western 
World,  and  gave  way  to  a  wistful,  exacting,  articu- 
late despair! 

Do  people  feel  this  way  because  our  time  is  worse 
than  Arnold's,  and  Arnold's  than  Goethe's,  and  so 
on  back  to  Paradise?  Or  because  forbidden  fruits — 
the  fruits  forbidden  us  by  time — are  always  the 
sweetest?  Or  because  we  can  never  compare  our 


The  Taste  of  the  Age  1 7 

own  age  with  an  earlier  age,  but  only  with  books 
about  that  age? 

We  say  that  somebody  doesn't  know  what  he  is 
missing;  Arnold,  pretty  plainly,  didn't  know  what 
he  was  having.  The  people  who  live  in  a  Golden 
Age  usually  go  around  complaining  how  yellow 
everything  looks.  Maybe  we  too  are  living  in  a 
Golden  or,  anyway,  Gold-Plated  Age,  and  the  peo- 
ple of  the  future  will  look  back  at  us  and  say  rue- 
fully: "We  never  had  it  so  good."  And  yet  the 
thought  that  they  will  say  this  isn't  as  reassuring 
as  it  might  be.  We  can  see  that  Goethe's  and  Ar- 
nold's ages  weren't  as  bad  as  Goethe  and  Arnold 
thought  them:  after  all,  they  produced  Goethe  and 
Arnold.  In  the  same  way,  our  times  may  not  be  as 
bad  as  we  think  them:  after  all,  they  have  produced 
us.  Yet  this  too  is  a  thought  that  isn't  as  reassuring 
as  it  might  be. 

A  Tale  of  Two  Cities  begins  by  saying  that  the 
times  were,  as  always,  "the  best  of  times,  the  worst 
of  times!"  If  we  judge  by  wealth  and  power,  our 
times  are  the  best  of  times;  if  the  times  have  made 
us  willing  to  judge  by  wealth  and  power,  they  are 
the  worst  of  times.  But  most  of  us  still  judge  by 
more:  by  literature  and  the  arts,  science  and  phi- 
losophy, education.  (Really  we  judge  by  more  than 
these:  by  love  and  wisdom;  but  how  are  we  to  say 
whether  our  own  age  is  wiser  and  more  loving  than 
another?)  I  wish  to  talk  to  you  for  a  time  about 
what  is  happening  to  the  audience  for  the  arts  and 

1 8  The  Taste  of  the  Age 

literature,  and  to  the  education  that  prepares  this 
audience,  here  in  the  United  States. 

In  some  ways  this  audience  is  improving,  has  im- 
proved, tremendously.  Today  it  is  as  easy  for  us  to 
get  Falstaff  or  Boris  Godunov  or  Ariadne  auf 
Naxos,  or  Landowska  playing  The  Well-Tempered 
Clavichord,  or  Fischer-Dieskau  singing  Die  Schone 
Mullerin,  or  Richter  playing  Beethoven's  piano 
sonatas,  as  it  used  to  be  to  get  Mischa  Elman  play- 
ing Humoresque.  Several  hundred  thousand  Ameri- 
cans bought  Toscanini's  recording  of  Beethoven's 
Ninth  Symphony.  Some  of  them  played  it  only  to 
show  how  faithful  their  phonographs  are;  some  of 
them  played  it  only  as  the  stimulus  for  an  hour  of 
random,  homely  rumination.  But  many  of  them 
really  listened  to  the  records — and,  later,  went  to 
hear  the  artists  who  made  the  records — and,  later, 
bought  for  themselves,  got  to  know  and  love,  com- 
positions that  a  few  years  ago  nobody  but  musi- 
cologists or  musicians  of  the  most  advanced  tastes 
had  even  read  the  scores  of.  That  there  are  sadder 
things  about  the  state  of  music  here,  I  know;  still, 
we  are  better  off  than  we  were  twenty-five  or 
thirty  years  ago.  Better  off,  too,  so  far  as  the  ballet 
is  concerned:  it  is  our  good  fortune  to  have  had 
the  greatest  influence  on  American  ballet  the  influ- 
ence of  the  greatest  choreographer  who  ever  lived, 
that  "Mozart  of  choreographers"  George  Balan- 

Here  today  the  visual  arts  are — but  I  don't  know 
whether  to  borrow  my  simile  from  the  Bible,  and 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  1 9 

say  flourishing  like  the  green  bay  tree,  or  to  borrow 
it  from  Shakespeare  and  say  growing  like  a  weed. 
We  are  producing  paintings  and  reproductions  of 
paintings,  painters  and  reproductions  of  painters, 
teachers  and  museum-directors  and  gallery-goers 
and  patrons  of  the  arts,  in  almost  celestial  quantities. 
Most  of  the  painters  are  bad  or  mediocre,  of  course 
— this  is  so,  necessarily,  in  any  art  at  any  time — 
but  the  good  ones  find  shelter  in  numbers,  are 
bought,  employed,  and  looked  at  like  the  rest.  The 
people  of  the  past  rejected  Cezanne,  Monet,  Renoir, 
the  many  great  painters  they  did  not  understand; 
by  liking  and  encouraging,  without  exception,  all 
the  painters  they  do  not  understand,  the  people  of 
the  present  have  made  it  impossible  for  this  to  hap- 
pen again. 

Our  society,  it  turns  out,  can  use  modern  art.  A 
restaurant,  today,  will  order  a  mural  by  Miro  in  as 
easy  and  matter-of-fact  a  spirit  as,  twenty-five 
years  ago,  it  would  have  ordered  one  by  Maxfield 
Parrish.  The  president  of  a  paint  factory  goes  home, 
sits  down  by  his  fireplace — it  looks  like  a  chromium 
acquarium  set  into  the  wall  by  a  wall-safe  com- 
pany that  has  branched  out  into  interior  decorating, 
but  there  is  a  log  burning  in  it,  he  calls  it  a  fire- 
place, let's  call  it  a  fireplace  too — the  president  sits 
down,  folds  his  hands  on  his  stomach,  and  stares 
relishingly  at  two  paintings  by  Jackson  Pollock  that 
he  has  hung  on  the  wall  opposite  him.  He  feels  at 
home  with  them;  in  fact,  as  he  looks  at  them  he  not 
only  feels  at  home,  he  feels  as  if  he  were  back  at 

2  o  The  Taste  of  the  Age 

the  paint  factory.  And  his  children — if  he  has  any 
— his  children  cry  for  Calder.  He  uses  thoroughly 
advanced,  wholly  non-representational  artists  to 
design  murals,  posters,  institutional  advertisements: 
if  we  have  the  patience  (or  are  given  the  oppor- 
tunity) to  wait  until  the  West  has  declined  a  little 
longer,  we  shall  all  see  the  advertisements  of  Mer- 
rill Lynch,  Pierce,  Fenner,  and  Smith  illustrated  by 
Jean  Dubuffet. 

This  president's  minor  executives  may  not  be 
willing  to  hang  a  Kandinsky  in  the  house,  but  they 
will  wear  one,  if  you  make  it  into  a  sport  shirt  or 
a  pair  of  swimming- trunks;  and  if  you  make  it  into 
a  sofa,  they  will  lie  on  it.  They  and  their  wives  and 
children  will  sit  on  a  porcupine,  if  you  first  exhibit 
it  at  the  Museum  of  Modern  Art  and  say  that  it  is 
a  chair.  In  fact,  there  is  nothing,  nothing  in  the 
whole  world  that  someone  won't  buy  and  sit  in  if 
you  tell  him  that  it  is  a  chair:  the  great  new  art 
form  of  our  age,  the  one  that  will  take  anything 
we  put  in  it,  is  the  chair.  If  Hieronymus  Bosch,  if 
Christian  Morgenstern,  if  the  Marquis  de  Sade  were 
living  at  this  hour,  what  chairs  they  would  be 

Our  architecture  is  flourishing  too.  Even  colleges 
have  stopped  rebuilding  the  cathedrals  of  Europe 
on  their  campuses;  and  a  mansion,  today,  is  what 
it  is  not  because  a  millionaire  has  dreamed  of  the 
Alhambra,  but  because  an  architect  has  dreamed  of 
the  marriage  of  Frank  Lloyd  Wright  and  a  silo.  We 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  2  I 

Americans  have  the  best  factories  anyone  has  ever 
designed;  we  have  many  schools,  post-offices,  and 
public  buildings  that  are,  so  far  as  one  can  see,  the 
best  factories  anyone  has  ever  designed;  we  have 
many  delightful,  or  efficient,  or  extraordinary 
houses.  The  public  that  lives  in  the  houses  our  archi- 
tects design — most  houses,  of  course,  are  not  de- 
signed, but  just  happen  to  a  contractor — this  public 
is  a  broad-minded,  tolerant,  adventurous  public, 
one  that  has  triumphed  over  inherited  prejudice  to 
an  astonishing  degree.  You  can  put  a  spherical 
plastic  gas-tower  on  aluminum  stilts,  divide  it  into 
rooms,  and  quite  a  few  people  will  be  willing  to 
crawl  along  saying,  "Is  this  the  floor?  Is  this  the 
wall?" — to  make  a  down-payment,  and  to  call  it 
home.  I  myself  welcome  this  spirit,  a  spirit  worthy 
of  Captain  Nemo,  of  Rossum's  Universal  Robots, 
of  the  inhabitants  of  the  Island  of  Laputa;  when  in 
a  few  years  some  young  American  airmen  are  living 
in  a  space-satellite  part  way  to  the  moon,  more  than 
one  of  them  will  be  able  to  look  around  and  think: 
"It's  a  home  just  like  Father  used  to  make,"  if  his 
father  was  an  architect. 

But  in  the  rest  of  the  arts,  the  arts  that  use 
words — 

But  here  you  may  interrupt  me,  saying:  "You've 
praised  or  characterized  or  made  fun  of  the  audi- 
ence for  music,  dancing,  painting,  furniture,  and 
architecture,  yet  each  time  you've  talked  only 
about  the  crust  of  the  pie,  about  things  that  apply 

2  Tfre  Tarte  of  ?&<?  Age 

to  hundreds  of  thousands,  not  to  hundreds  of  mil- 
lions. Most  people  don't  listen  to  classical  music  at 
all,  but  to  rock-and-roll  or  hillbilly  songs  or  some 
album  named  Music  To  Listen  To  Music  By; 
they've  never  seen  any  ballet  except  a  television 
ballet  or  some  musical  comedy's  last  echo  of  Rodeo. 
When  they  go  home  they  sit  inside  chairs  like  imita- 
tion-leather haystacks,  chairs  that  were  exhibited 
not  at  the  Museum  of  Modern  Art  but  at  a  conven- 
tion of  furniture  dealers  in  High  Point;  if  they  buy 
a  picture  they  buy  it  from  the  furniture  dealer,  and 
it  was  the  furniture  dealer  who  painted  it;  and  their 
houses  are  split-level  ranch-type  rabbit-warrens. 
Now  that  you've  come  to  the  'arts  that  use  words/ 
are  you  going  to  keep  on  talking  about  the  unhappy 
few,  or  will  you  talk  for  a  change  about  the  happy 

I'll  talk  about  the  happy  many;  about  the  hun- 
dreds of  millions,  not  the  hundreds  of  thousands. 
Where  words  and  the  hundreds  of  thousands  are 
concerned,  plenty  of  good  things  happen — though 
to  those  who  love  words  and  the  arts  that  use  them, 
it  may  all  seem  far  from  plenty.  We  do  have  good 
writers,  perhaps  more  than  we  deserve — and  good 
readers,  perhaps  fewer  than  the  writers  deserve.  But 
when  it  comes  to  tens  of  millions  of  readers,  hun- 
dreds of  millions  of  hearers  and  viewers,  we  are 
talking  about  a  new  and  strange  situation;  and  to 
understand  why  this  situation  is  what  it  is,  we  need 
to  go  back  in  time  a  little  way,  back  to  the  days 
of  Matthew  Arnold  and  Queen  Victoria. 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  2  7 


We  all  remember  that  Queen  Victoria,  when  she 
died  in  1901,  had  never  got  to  see  a  helicopter,  a 
television  set,  penicillin,  an  electric  refrigerator;  yet 
she  had  seen  railroads,  electric  lights,  textile  ma- 
chinery, the  telegraph — she  came  about  midway  in 
the  industrial  and  technological  revolution  that  has 
transformed  our  world.  But  there  are  a  good  many 
other  things,  of  a  rather  different  sort,  that  Queen 
Victoria  never  got  to  see,  because  she  came  at  the 
very  beginning  of  another  sort  of  half-technologi- 
cal, half-cultural  revolution.  Let  me  give  some  ex- 

If  the  young  Queen  Victoria  had  said  to  the  Duke 
of  Wellington:  "Sir,  the  Bureau  of  Public  Relations 
of  Our  army  is  in  a  deplorable  state,"  he  would  have 
answered:  "What  is  a  Bureau  of  Public  Relations, 
ma'am?"  When  he  and  his  generals  wanted  to  tell 
lies,  they  had  to  tell  them  themselves;  there  was  no 
organized  institution  set  up  to  do  it  for  them.  But 
of  course  Queen  Victoria  couldn't  have  made  any 
such  remark,  since  she  too  had  never  heard  of  pub- 
He  relations.  She  had  never  seen,  or  heard  about,  or 
dreamed  of  an  advertising  agency;  she  had  never 
seen — unless  you  count  Barnum — a  press  agent; 
she  had  never  seen  a  photograph  of  a  sex-slaying  in 
a  tabloid — had  never  seen  a  tabloid.  People  gossiped 
about  her,  but  not  in  gossip  columns;  she  had  never 
heard  a  commentator,  a  soap  opera,  a  quiz  pro- 
gram. Queen  Victoria — think  of  it! — had  never 

2  a  The  Taste  of  the  Age 

heard  a  singing  commercial,  never  seen  an  advertise- 
ment beginning:  Science  says  .  .  .  and  if  she  had 
seen  one  she  would  only  have  retorted:  "And  what, 
pray,  does  the  Archbishop  of  Canterbury  say? 
What  does  dear  good  Albert  say?" 

When  some  comedian  or  wit — Sydney  Smith,  for 
example — told  Queen  Victoria  jokes,  they  weren't 
supplied  him  by  six  well-paid  gag-writers,  but 
just  occurred  to  him.  When  Disraeli  and  Gladstone 
made  speeches  for  her  government,  the  speeches 
weren't  written  for  them  by  ghost-writers;  when 
Disraeli  and  Gladstone  sent  her  lovingly  or  respect- 
fully inscribed  copies  of  their  new  books,  they  had 
written  the  books  themselves.  There  they  were, 
with  the  resources  of  an  empire  at  their  command, 
and  they  wrote  the  books  themselves!  And  Queen 
Victoria  had  to  read  the  books  herself:  nobody  was 
willing — or  able — to  digest  them  for  her  in  Read- 
ers'' Digest,  or  to  make  movies  of  them,  or  to  make 
radio-  or  television-programs  of  them,  so  that  she 
could  experience  them  painlessly  and  effortlessly. 
In  those  days  people  chewed  their  own  food  or 
went  hungry;  we  have  changed  all  that. 

Queen  Victoria  never  went  to  the  movies  and  had 
an  epic  costing  eight  million  dollars  injected  into 
her  veins — she  never  went  to  the  movies.  She  never 
read  a  drugstore  book  by  Mickey  Spillane;  even  if 
she  had  had  a  moral  breakdown  and  had  read  a  Bad 
Book,  it  would  just  have  been  Under  Two  Flags 
or  something  by  Marie  Corelli.  She  had  never  been 
interviewed  by,  or  read  the  findings  of,  a  Gallup 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  2  c 

Poll.  She  never  read  the  report  of  a  commission  of 
sociologists  subsidized  by  the  Ford  Foundation;  she 
never  Adjusted  herself  to  her  Group,  or  Shared  the 
Experience  of  her  Generation,  or  breathed  a  little 
deeper  to  feel  herself  a  part  of  the  Century  of  the 
Common  Man — she  "was  a  part  of  it  for  almost  two 
years,  but  she  didn't  know  that  that  was  what  it 

And  all  the  other  people  in  the  world  were  just 
like  Queen  Victoria. 

Isn't  it  plain  that  it  is  all  these  lacks  that  make 
Queen  Victoria  so  old-fashioned,  so  finally  and 
awfully  different  from  us,  rather  than  the  fact  that 
she  never  flew  in  an  airplane,  or  took  insulin,  or  had 
a  hydrogen  bomb  dropped  on  her?  Queen  Victoria 
in  a  D.  C.  7  would  be  Queen  Victoria  still — I  can 
hear  her  saying  to  the  stewardess:  "We  do  not  wish 
dramamine";  but  a  Queen  Victoria  who  listened  ev- 
ery day  to  ]ohr?s  Other  Wife,  Portia  Faces  Life, 
and  Just  Plain  Bill — that  wouldn't  be  Queen  Vic- 
toria at  all! 

There  has  been  not  one  revolution,  an  industrial 
and  technological  revolution,  there  have  been  two; 
and  this  second,  cultural  revolution  might  be  called 
the  Revolution  of  the  Word.  People  have  learned 
to  process  words  too — words,  and  the  thoughts  and 
attitudes  they  embody:  we  manufacture  entertain- 
ment and  consolation  as  efficiently  as  we  manufac- 
ture anything  else.  One  sees  in  stores  ordinary  old- 
fashioned  oatmeal  or  cocoa;  and,  side  by  side  with 
it,  another  kind  called  Instant  Cocoa,  Instant  Oats. 

^  The  Taste  of  the  Age 

Most  of  our  literature — I  use  the  word  in  its  broad- 
est sense — is  Instant  Literature:  the  words  are  short, 
easy,  instantly  recognizable  words,  the  thoughts  are 
easy,  familiar,  instantly  recognizable  thoughts,  the 
attitudes  are  familiar,  already-agreed-upon,  in- 
stantly acceptable  attitudes.  And  if  all  this  is  true, 
can  these  productions  be  either  truth  or — in  the 
narrower  and  higher  sense — literature?  The  truth, 
as  everybody  knows,  is  sometimes  complicated  or 
hard  to  understand;  is  sometimes  almost  unrecog- 
nizably different  from  what  we  expected  it  to  be; 
is  sometimes  difficult  or,  even,  impossible  to  accept. 
But  literature  is  necessarily  mixed  up  with  truth, 
isn't  it? — our  truth,  truth  as  we  know  it;  one  can 
almost  define  literature  as  the  union  of  a  wish  and 
a  truth,  or  as  a  wish  modified  by  a  truth.  But  this 
Instant  Literature  is  a  wish  reinforced  by  a  cliche, 
a  wish  proved  by  a  lie:  Instant  Literature — whether 
it  is  a  soap  opera,  a  Broadway  play,  or  a  historical, 
sexual  best-seller — tells  us  always  that  life  is  not 
only  what  we  wish  it,  but  also  what  we  think  it. 
When  people  are  treating  him  as  a  lunatic  who  has 
to  be  humored,  Hamlet  cries:  "They  fool  me  to  the 
top  of  my  bent";  and  the  makers  of  Instant  Litera- 
ture treat  us  exactly  as  advertisers  treat  the  read- 
ers of  advertisements — humor  us,  flatter  our  preju- 
dices, pull  our  strings,  show  us  that  they  know  us 
for  what  they  take  us  to  be:  impressionable,  emo- 
tional, ignorant,  somewhat  weak-minded  Common 
Men.  They  fool  us  to  the  top  of  our  bent — and  if 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  2  7 

we  aren't  fooled,  they  dismiss  us  as  a  statistically 
negligible  minority. 

An  advertisement  is  a  wish  modified,  if  at  all,  by 
the  Pure  Food  and  Drug  Act.  Take  a  loaf  of  ordi- 
nary white  bread  that  you  buy  at  the  grocery.  As 
you  eat  it  you  know  that  you  are  eating  it,  and  not 
the  blotter,  because  the  blotter  isn't  so  bland;  yet 
in  the  world  of  advertisements  little  boys  ask  their 
mother  not  to  put  any  jam  on  their  bread,  it  tastes 
so  good  without.  This  world  of  the  advertisements 
is  a  literary  world,  of  a  kind:  it  is  the  world  of  In- 
stant Literature.  Think  of  some  of  the  speeches  we 
hear  in  political  campaigns — aren't  they  too  part  of 
the  world  of  Instant  Literature?  And  the  first  story 
you  read  in  the  Saturday  Evening  Tost,  the  first 
movie  you  go  to  at  your  neighborhood  theater,  the 
first  dramatic  program  you  hear  on  the  radio,  see 
on  television — are  these  more  like  Grimm's  Tales 
and  Alice  in  Wonderland  and  The  Three  Sisters  and 
Oedipus  Rex  and  Shakespeare  and  the  Bible,  or  are 
they  more  like  political  speeches  and  advertise- 

The  greatest  American  industry — why  has  no 
one  ever  said  so? — is  the  industry  of  using  words. 
We  pay  tens  of  millions  of  people  to  spend  their 
lives  lying  to  us,  or  telling  us  the  truth,  or  supplying 
us  with  a  nourishing  medicinal  compound  of  the 
two.  All  of  us  are  living  in  the  middle  of  a  dark 
wood — a  bright  Technicolored  forest — of  words, 
words,  words.  It  is  a  forest  in  which  the  wind  is 

2  g  The  Taste  of  the  Age 

never  still:  there  isn't  a  tree  in  the  forest  that  is  not, 
for  every  moment  of  its  life  and  our  lives,  persuad- 
ing or  ordering  or  seducing  or  overawing  us  into 
buying  this,  believing  that,  voting  for  the  other. 
And  yet,  the  more  words  there  are,  the  simpler 
the  words  get.  The  professional  users  of  words 
process  their  product  as  if  it  were  baby  food  and 
we  babies:  all  we  have  to  do  is  open  our  mouths 
and  swallow.  Most  of  our  mental  and  moral  food 
is   quick-frozen,    pre-digested,   spoon-fed.   E.    M. 
Forster  has  said:  "The  only  thing  we  learn  from 
spoon-feeding  is  the  shape  of  the  spoon."  Not  only 
is  this  true — pretty  soon,  if  anything  doesn't  have 
the  shape  of  that  spoon  we  won't  swallow  it,  we 
can't  swallow  it.  Our  century  has  produced  some 
great  and  much  good  literature,  but  the  habitual 
readers  of  Instant  Literature  cannot  read  it;  nor  can 
they  read  the  great  and  good  literature  of  the  past. 
If  Queen  Victoria  had  got  to  read  the  Readers' 
Digest — awful  thought! — she  would  have  loved  it; 
and  it  would  have  changed  her.  Everything  in  the 
world,  in  the  Readers'  Digest— I  am  using  it  as  a 
convenient  symbol  for  all  that  is  like  it — is  a  pal- 
atable, timely,  ultimately  reassuring  anecdote,  im- 
mediately comprehensible  to  everybody  over,  and 
to  many  under,  the  age  of  eight.  Queen  Victoria 
would  notice  that  Albert  kept  quoting,  from  Shake- 
speare—that the  Archbishop  of  Canterbury  kept 
quoting,  from  the  Bible — things  that  were  very  dif- 
ferent from  anything  in  the  Readers'  Digest.  Some- 
times these  sentences  were  not  reassuring  but  dis- 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  2  o 

quieting,  sometimes  they  had  big  words  or  hard 
thoughts  in  them,  sometimes  the  interest  in  them 
wasn't  human,  but  literary  or  divine.  After  a  while 
Queen  Victoria  would  want  Shakespeare  and  the 
Bible — would  want  Albert,  even — digested  for  her 
beforehand  by  the  Readers'  Digest.  And  a  little  fur- 
ther on  in  this  process  of  digestion,  she  would  look 
from  the  Readers1  Digest  to  some  magazine  the  size 
of  your  palm,  called  Quick  or  Pic  or  Click  or  The 
Week  in  TV,  and  a  strange  half -sexual  yearning 
would  move  like  musk  through  her  veins,  and  she 
would — 

But  I  cannot,  I  will  not  say  it.  You  and  I  know 
how  she  and  Albert  will  end:  sitting  before  the 
television  set,  staring  into  it,  silent;  and  inside  the 
set,  there  are  Victoria  and  Albert,  staring  into  the 
television  camera,  silent,  and  the  master  of  cere- 
monies is  saying  to  them:  "No,  I  think  you  will  find 
that  Bismarck  is  the  capital  of  North  Dakota!" 

But  for  so  long  as  she  still  reads,  Queen  Victoria 
will  be  able  to  get  the  Bible  and  Shakespeare — 
though  not,  alas!  Albert — in  some  specially  pre- 
pared form.  Fulton  Oursler  or  Fulton  J.  Sheen  or 
a  thousand  others  are  always  re- writing  the  Bible; 
there  are  many  comic-book  versions  of  Shake- 
speare; and  only  the  other  day  I  read  an  account 
of  an  interesting  project  of  re- writing  Shakespeare 
"for  students": 

Philadelphia,  Pa.  Feb.  i.  (ap) 

Two  high  school  teachers  have  published  a  simplified 
version  of  Shakespeare's  *'Juliias  Caesar"  and  plan  to 

The  Taste  of  the  Age 

do  the  same  for  "Macbeth."  Their  goal  is  to  make  the 
plays  more  understandable  to  youth. 

The  teachers,  Jack  A.  Waypen  and  Leroy  S.  Layton, 
say  if  the  Bible  can  be  revised  and  modernized  why 
not  Shakespeare?  They  made  1,122  changes  in  "Julius 
Caesar"  from  single  words  to  entire  passages.  They 
modernized  obsolete  words  and  expressions  and  sub- 
stituted "you"  for  "thee"  and  "thou." 

Shakespeare  had  Brutus  say  in  Act  III,  Scene  I: 

Fates,  we  will  know  your  pleasures; 

That  we  shall  die,  we  know;  'tis  but  the  time 

And  drawing  days  out,  that  men  stand  upon. 

In  the  Waypen-Layton  version,  Brutus  says: 

We  will  soon  know  what  Fate  decrees  for  us. 
That  we  shall  die,  we  know.  It's  putting  off 
The  time  of  death  that's  of  concern  to  men. 

Not  being  Shakespeare,  I  can't  find  a  comment 
worthy  of  this,  this  project.  I  am  tempted  to  say  in 
an  Elizabethan  voice:  "Ah,  wayward  Waypen, 
lascivious  Layton,  lay  down  thine  errant  pen!"  And 
yet  if  I  said  this  to  them  they  would  only  reply 
earnestly,  uncomprehendingly,  sorrowfully:  "Can't 
you  give  us  some  constructive  criticism,  not  de- 
structive? Why  don't  you  say  your  errant  pen, 
not  thine?  And  lascivious!  Mr.  Jarrell,  if  you  have 
to  talk  about  that  type  subject,  don't  say  lascivious 
Layton,  say  sexy  Layton!" 

Even  Little  Red  Riding  Hood  is  getting  too  hard 
for  children,  I  read.  The  headline  of  the  story  is 
child's  books  being  made  more  simple;  the 
story  comes  from  New  York,  is  distributed  by  the 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  3  I 

International  News  Service,  and  is  written  by  Miss 
Olga  Curtis.  Miss  Curtis  has  interviewed  Julius 
Kushner,  the  head  of  a  firm  that  has  been  publishing 
children's  books  longer  than  anyone  else  in  the 
country.  He  tells  Miss  Curtis: 

"Non-essential  details  have  disappeared  from  the 
1953  Little  Red  Riding  Hood  story.  Modern 
children  enjoy  their  stories  better  stripped  down  to 
basic  plot — for  instance,  Little  Red  Riding  Hood 
meets  wolf,  Little  Red  Riding  Hood  escapes  wolf. 
[I  have  a  comment:  the  name  Little  Red  Riding 
Hood  seems  to  me  both  long  and  non-essential — 
why  not  call  the  child  Red,  and  strip  the  story  down 
to  Red  meets  wolf,  Red  escapes  wolf?  At  this  rate, 
one  could  tell  a  child  all  of  Grimm's  tales  between 
dinner  and  bed-time.] 

"  'We  have  to  keep  up  with  the  mood  of  each 
generation,'  Kushner  explained.  'Today's  children 
like  stories  condensed  to  essentials,  and  with  visual 
and  tactile  appeal  as  well  as  interesting  content.' 

"Modernizing  old  favorites,  Kushner  said,  is  fun- 
damentally a  matter  of  simplifying.  Kushner  added 
that  today's  children's  books  are  intended  to  be 
activity  games  as  well  as  reading  matter.  He  men- 
tioned books  that  make  noises  when  pressed,  and 
books  with  pop-up  three-dimensional  illustrations 
as  examples  of  publishers'  efforts  to  make  each  book 
a  teaching  aid  as  well  as  a  story." 

As  one  reads  one  sees  before  one,  as  if  in  a  vision, 
the  children's  book  of  the  future:  a  book  that, 
pressed,  says:  Vm  your  friend;  teaches  the  child 

-  2  The  Taste  of  the  Age 

that  Crime  Does  Not  Pay;  does  not  exceed  thirty 
words;  can  be  used  as  a  heating-pad  if  the  electric 
blanket  breaks  down;  and  has  three-dimensional  il- 
lustrations dyed  with  harmless  vegetable  coloring 
matter  and  flavored  with  pure  vanilla.  I  can  hear 
the  children  of  the  future  crying:  "Mother,  read 
us  another  vanilla  book!" 

But  by  this  time  you  must  be  thinking,  as  I  am, 
of  one  of  the  more  frightening  things  about  our 
age:  that  much  of  the  body  of  common  knowledge 
that  educated  people  (and  many  uneducated  peo- 
ple) once  had,  has  disappeared  or  is  rapidly  disap- 
pearing. Fairy  tales,  myths,  proverbs,  history — the 
Bible  and  Shakespeare  and  Dickens,  the  Odyssey 
and  Gulliver's  Travels — these  and  all  the  things  like 
them  are  surprisingly  often  things  that  most  of  an 
audience  won't  understand  an  allusion  to,  a  joke 
about.  These  things  were  the  ground  on  which  the 
people  of  the  past  came  together,  Much  of  the  wit 
or  charm  or  elevation  of  any  writing  or  conver- 
sation with  an  atmosphere  depends  upon  this  pre- 
supposed, easily  and  affectionately  remembered 
body  of  common  knowledge;  because  of  it  we  un- 
derstand things,  feel  about  things,  as  human  beings 
and  not  as  human  animals. 

Who  teaches  us  all  this?  Our  families,  our  friends, 
our  schools,  society  in  general.  Most  of  all,  we 
hope,  our  schools.  When  I  say  schools  I  mean  gram- 
mar schools  and  high  schools  and  colleges — but 
the  first  two  are  more  important.  Most  people  still 
don't  go  to  college,  and  those  who  do  don't  get 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  ->  -> 

there  until  they  are  seventeen  or  eighteen.  "Give 
us  a  child  until  he  is  seven  and  he  is  ours,"  a  Jesuit 
is  supposed  to  have  said;  the  grammar  schools  and 
high  schools  of  the  United  States  have  a  child  for 
ten  years  longer,  and  then  he  is — whose?  Shake- 
speare's? Leroy  S.  Layton's?  The  Readers'  Di- 
gest's} When  students  at  last  leave  high  school  or 
go  on  to  college,  what  are  they  like? 

1 1 1 

College  teachers  continually  complain  about 
their  students'  "lack  of  preparation,"  just  as,  each 
winter,  they  complain  about  the  winter's  lack  of 
snow.  Winters  don't  have  as  much  snow  as  winters 
used  to  have:  things  are  going  to  the  dogs  and  al- 
ways have  been.  The  teachers  tell  one  another  sto- 
ries about  The  Things  Their  Students  Don't  Know 
— it  surprises  you,  after  a  few  thousand  such  sto- 
ries, that  the  students  manage  to  find  their  way  to 
the  college.  And  yet,  I  have  to  admit,  I  have  as  many 
stories  as  the  rest;  and,  veteran  of  such  conversa- 
tions as  I  am,  I  am  continually  being  astonished  at 
the  things  my  students  don't  know. 

One  dark,  cold,  rainy  night — the  sort  of  night  on 
which  clients  came  to  Sherlock  Holmes — I  read  in 
a  magazine  that  winters  don't  have  as  much  snow 
as  winters  used  to  have;  according  to  meteorolo- 
gists, the  climate  is  changing.  Maybe  the  students 
are  changing  too.  One  is  always  hearing  how  much 
worse,  or  how  much  better,  schools  are  than  they 

^  a  The  Taste  of  the  Age 

used  to  be.  But  one  isn't  any  longer  going  to  gram- 
mar school,  or  to  high  school  either;  one  isn't,  like 
Arnold,  a  school  inspector;  whether  one  believes 
or  disbelieves,  blames  or  praises,  how  little  one  has 
to  go  on!  Hearing  one  child  say  to  another:  "What 
does  E  come  after  in  the  alphabet?"  makes  a  great, 
and  perhaps  unfair,  impression  on  one.  The  child 
may  not  be  what  is  called  a  random  sample. 

Sitting  in  my  living  room  by  the  nice  warm  fire, 
and  occasionally  looking  with  pleasure  at  the  rain 
and  night  outside — how  glad  I  was  that  I  wasn't 
in  them! — I  thought  of  some  other  samples  I  had 
seen  just  that  winter,  and  I  wasn't  sure  whether 
they  were  random,  either.  That  winter  I  had  had 
occasion  to  talk  with  some  fifth-grade  students  and 
some  eighth-grade  students;  I  had  gone  to  a  class  of 
theirs;  I  had  even  gone  carolling,  in  a  truck,  with 
some  Girl  Scouts  and  their  Scoutmistress,  and  had 
been  dismayed  at  all  the  carols  I  didn't  know — it 
was  a  part  of  my  education  that  had  been  neglected. 

I  was  not  dismayed  at  the  things  the  children 
hadn't  known,  I  was  overawed;  there  were  very  few 
parts  of  their  education  that  had  not  been  neglected. 
Half  the  fifth-grade  children — you  won't,  just  as 
I  couldn't,  believe  this — didn't  know  who  Jonah 
was;  only  a  few  had  ever  heard  of  King  Arthur. 
When  I  asked  an  eighth-grade  student  about  King 
Arthur  she  laughed  at  my  question,  and  said:  "Of 
course  I  know  who  King  Arthur  was."  My  heart 
warmed  to  her  of  course.  But  she  didn't  know  who 
Lancelot  was,  didn't  know  who  Guinevere  was; 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  3  5 

she  had  never  heard  of  Sir  Galahad.  I  realized  with 
a  pang  the  truth  of  the  line  of  poetry  that  speaks 
of  "those  familiar,  now  unfamiliar  knights  that 
sought  the  Grail."  I  left  the  Knights  of  the  Round 
Table  for  history:  she  didn't  know  who  Charle- 
magne was. 

She  didn't  know  who  Charlemagne  was!  And  she 
had  never  heard  of  Alexander  the  Great;  her  class 
had  "had  Rome,"  but  she  didn't  remember  anything 
about  Julius  Caesar,  though  she  knew  his  name.  I 
asked  her  about  Hector  and  Achilles:  she  had  heard 
the  name  Hector,  but  didn't  know  who  he  was;  she 
had  never  heard  of  "that  other  one." 

I  remembered  the  college  freshman  who,  when 
I  had  asked  her  about  "They  that  take  the  sword 
shall  perish  with  the  sword,"  had  answered:  "It's 
Shakespeare,  I  think";  and  the  rest  of  the  class 
hadn't  even  known  it  was  Shakespeare.  Nobody  in 
the  class  had  known  the  difference  between  faith 
and  works.  And  how  shocked  they  had  all  been — 
the  Presbyterians  especially — at  the  notion  of  pre- 

But  all  these,  except  for  the  question  of  where  E 
comes  in  the  alphabet,  had  been  questions  of  litera- 
ture, theology,  and  European  history;  maybe  there 
are  more  important  things  for  students  to  know. 
The  little  girl  who  didn't  know  who  Charlemagne 
was  had  been  taught,  I  found,  to  conduct  a  meeting, 
to  nominate,  and  to  second  nominations;  she  had 
been  taught — I  thought  this,  though  far-fetched, 
truly  imaginative — the  right  sort  of  story  to  tell  an 

2  5  The  Taste  of  the  Age 

eighteen-months-old  baby;  and  she  had  learned  in 
her  Domestic  Science  class  to  bake  a  date-pudding, 
to  make  a  dirndl  skirt,  and  from  the  remnants  of 
the  cloth  to  make  a  drawstring  carryall.  She  could 
not  tell  me  who  Charlemagne  was,  it  is  true,  but  if 
I  were  an  eighteen-months-old  baby  I  could  go  to 
her  and  be  sure  of  having  her  tell  me  the  right  sort 
of  story.  I  felt  a  senseless  depression  at  this;  and 
thought,  to  alleviate  it,  of  the  date-pudding  she 
would  be  able  to  bake  me. 

I  said  to  myself  about  her,  as  I  was  getting  into 
the  habit  of  saying  about  each  new  eighth-grade 
girl  I  talked  to:  "She  must  be  an  exception";  pretty 
soon  I  was  saying:  "She  must  be  an  exception!"  If 
I  had  said  this  to  her  teacher  she  would  have  re- 
plied: "Exception  indeed!  She's  a  nice,  normal, 
well-adjusted  girl.  She's  one  of  the  drum-majorettes 
and  she's  Vice-President  of  the  Student  Body;  she's 
had  two  short  stories  in  the  school  magazine  and 
she  made  her  own  formal  for  the  Sadie  Hawkins 
dance.  She's  an  exceptionally  normal  girl!"  And 
what  could  I  have  answered?  "But  she  doesn't 
know  who  Charlemagne  was"?  You  can  see  how 
ridiculous  that  would  have  sounded. 

How  many  people  cared  whether  or  not  she 
knew  who  Charlemagne  was?  How  much  good 
would  knowing  who  Charlemagne  was  ever  do 
her?  Could  you  make  a  dirndl  out  of  Charlemagne? 
make,  even,  a  drawstring  carryall?  There  was  a 
chance — one  chance  in  a  hundred  million — that 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  -y  y 

someday,  on  a  quiz  program  on  the  radio,  someone 
would  ask  her  who  Charlemagne  was.  If  she  knew 
the  audience  would  applaud  in  wonder,  and  the  an- 
nouncer would  give  her  a  refrigerator;  if  she  didn't 
know  the  audience  would  groan  in  sympathy,  and 
the  announcer  would  give  her  a  dozen  cartons  of 
soap-powder.  Euclid,  I  believe,  once  gave  a  penny 
to  a  student  who  asked:  "What  good  will  studying 
geometry  do  me?" — studying  geometry  made  him 
a  penny.  But  knowing  who  Charlemagne  was 
would  in  all  probability  never  make  her  a  penny. 
Another  of  the  eighth-grade  girls  had  shown  me 
her  Reader.  All  the  eighth-grade  students  of  several 
states  use  it;  it  is  named  Adventures  for  Readers. 
It  has  in  it,  just  as  Readers  used  to  have  in  them, 
The  Man  Without  a  Country  and  The  Legend  of 
Sleepy  Hollow  and  Evangeline,  and  the  preface  to 
Adventures  for  Readers  says  about  their  being 
there:  "The  competition  of  movies  and  radios  has 
reduced  the  time  young  children  spend  with  books. 
It  is  no  longer  supposed,  as  it  once  was,  that  read- 
ing skills  are  fully  developed  at  the  end  of  the  sixth 
grade  .  .  .  Included  are  The  Man  Without  a 
Country,  The  Legend  of  Sleepy  Hollow,  and 
Evangeline.  These  longer  selections  were  once  in 
every  eighth  grade  reading  book.  They  have  disap- 
peared because  in  the  original  they  are  far  too  diffi- 
cult for  eighth  grade  readers.  Yet,  they  are  never 
presented  for  other  years.  If  they  are  not  read  in 
the  eighth  grade,  they  are  not  read  at  all.  In  their 

<,  g  The  Taste  of  the  Age 

simplified  form  they  are  once  more  available  to 
young  people  to  become  a  part  of  their  background 
and  experience." 

I  thought  that  in  the  next  edition  of  Adventures 
for  Readers  the  editors  would  have  to  substitute  for 
the  phrase  the  competition  of  movies  and  radios, 
the  phrase  the  competition  of  movies,  radios,  and 
television:  I  thought  of  this  thought  for  some 
time.  But  when  I  thought  of  Longfellow's  being  in 
the  original  far  too  difficult  for  eighth-grade  stu- 
dents, I — I  did  not  know  what  to  think.  How  much 
more  difficult  everything  is  than  it  used  to  be! 

I  remembered  a  letter,  one  about  difficult  writ- 
ers, that  I  had  read  in  The  Saturday  Review.  The 
letter  said:  "I  have  been  wondering  when  some- 
body with  an  established  reputation  in  the  field  of 
letters  would  stand  tiptoe  and  slap  these  unintelligi- 
bles  in  the  face.  Now  I  hope  the  publishers  will 
wake  up  and  throw  the  whole  egotistical,  sophist 
lot  of  them  down  the  drain.  I  hope  that  fifty  years 
from  now  nobody  will  remember  that  Joyce  or 
Stein  or  James  or  Proust  or  Mann  ever  lived." 

I  knew  that  such  feelings  are  not  peculiar  to  our 
own  place  or  age.  Once  while  looking  at  an  exhibi- 
tion of  Victorian  posters  and  paintings  and  news- 
papers and  needlework,  I  had  read  a  page  of  the 
London  Times,  printed  in  the  year  185 1,  that  had 
on  it  a  review  of  a  new  book  by  Alfred  Tennyson. 
After  several  sentences  about  what  was  wrong  with 
this  book,  the  reviewer  said:  "xVnother  fault  is  not 
particular  to  In  Memoriam;  it  runs  through  all  Air. 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  ->  g 

Tennyson's  poetry — we  allude  to  his  obscurity." 
And  yet  the  reviewer  would  not  have  alluded  to 
Longfellow's  obscurity;  those  Victorians  for  whom 
everything  else  was  too  difficult  still  understood  and 
delighted  in  Longfellow.  But  Tennyson  had  been 
too  obscure  for  some  of  them,  just  as  Longfellow 
was  getting  to  be  too  obscure  for  some  of  us,  as  our 
"reading  skills"  got  less  and  less  "fully  developed." 

This  better-humored  writer  of  the  London 
Times  had  not  hoped  that  in  fifty  years  nobody 
would  remember  that  Tennyson  had  ever  lived;  and 
this  is  fortunate,  since  he  would  not  have  got  his 
wish.  But  I  thought  that  the  writer  to  The  Saturday 
Review  might  well  get,  might  already  be  getting,  a 
part  of  his  wish.  How  many  people  there  were 
all  around  him  who  did  not  remember — who  in- 
deed had  never  learned — that  Proust  or  James  or 
Mann  or  Joyce  had  ever  lived!  How  many  of 
them  there  were,  and  how  many  more  of  their  chil- 
dren there  were,  who  did  not  remember — who  in- 
deed had  never  learned — that  Jonah  or  King  Arthur 
or  Galahad  or  Charlemagne  had  ever  lived!  And 
in  the  end  all  of  us  would  die,  and  not  know,  then, 
that  anybody  had  ever  lived:  and  the  writer  to  The 
Saturday  Review  would  have  got  not  part  of  his 
wish  but  all  of  it. 

And  if,  in  the  meantime,  some  people  grieved  to 
think  of  so  much  gone  and  so  much  more  to  go, 
they  were  the  exception.  Or,  rather,  the  exceptions: 
millions  and  millions — tens  of  millions,  even — of 
exceptions.  There  were  enough  exceptions  to  make 

.  0  The  Taste  of  the  Age 

a  good-sized  country;  I  thought,  with  pleasure,  of 
walking  through  the  streets  of  that  country  and 
having  the  children  tell  me  who  Charlemagne  was. 

I  decided  not  to  think  of  Charlemagne  any 
more,  and  turned  my  eyes  from  my  absurd  vision 
of  the  white-bearded  king  trying  to  learn  to  read, 
running  his  big  finger  slowly  along  under  the  words 
.  .  .  My  samples  weren't  really  random,  I  knew; 
I  was  letting  myself  go,  being  exceptionally  unjust 
to  that  exceptionally  normal  girl  and  the  school 
that  had  helped  to  make  her  so.  She  was  being  given 
an  education  suitable  for  the  world  she  was  to  use 
it  in;  my  quarrel  was  not  so  much  with  her  educa- 
tion as  with  her  world,  and  our  quarrels  with  the 
world  are  like  our  quarrels  with  God:  no  matter 
how  right  we  are,  we  are  wrong.  But  who  wants 
to  be  right  all  the  time?  I  thought,  smiling;  and 
said  goodbye  to  Charlemagne  with  the  same  smile. 

Instead  of  thinking,  I  looked  at  The  New  York 
Times  Book  Review;  there  in  the  midst  of  so  many 
books,  I  could  surely  forget  that  some  people 
don't  read  any.  And  after  all,  as  Rilke  says  in  one  of 
his  books,  we  are — some  of  us  are — beaten  at/By 
books  as  if  by  perpetual  bells;  we  can  well,  as  he 
bids  us,  rejoice  /When  between  two  books  the  sky 
shines  to  you,  silent.  In  the  beginning  was  the  Word, 
and  man  has  made  books  of  it. 

I  read  quietly  along,  but  the  review  I  was  read- 
ing was  continued  on  page  47;  and  as  I  was  turning 
to  page  47  I  came  to  an  advertisement,  a  two-page 
advertisement  of  the  Revised  Standard  Version  of 

The  Taste  of  the  Age  *  j 

the  Bible.  It  was  a  sober,  careful,  authorized  sort 
of  advertisement,  with  many  testimonials  of  clergy- 
men, but  it  was,  truly,  an  advertisement.  It  said: 

"In  these  anxious  days,  the  Bible  offers  a  prac- 
tical antidote  for  sorrow,  cynicism,  and  despair.  But 
the  King  James  version  is  often  difficult  reading. 

"If  you  have  too  seldom  opened  your  Bible  be- 
cause the  way  it  is  written  makes  it  hard  for  you  to 
understand,  the  Revised  Standard  Version  can 
bring  you  an  exciting  new  experience. 

"Here  is  a  Bible  so  enjoyable  you  find  you  pick 
it  up  twice  as  often  ..." 

Tennyson  and  Longfellow  and  the  Bible — what 
was  there  that  wasn't  difficult  reading?  And  a  few 
days  before  that  I  had  torn  out  of  the  paper — I  got 
it  and  read  it  again,  and  it  was  hard  for  me  to  read 
it — a  Gallup  Poll  that  began:  "Although  the  United 
States  has  the  highest  level  of  formal  education  in 
the  world,  fewer  people  here  read  books  than  in 
any  other  major  democracy."  It  didn't  compare  us 
with  minor  autocracies,  which  are  probably  a  lot 
worse.  It  went  on  to  say  that  "fewer  than  one  adult 
American  in  every  five  was  found  to  be  reading  a 
book  at  the  time  of  the  survey.  [Twenty  years  ago, 
29%  were  found  to  be  reading  a  book;  today  only 
17%  are.]  In  England,  where  the  typical  citizen  has 
far  less  formal  schooling  than  the  typical  citizen 
here,  nearly  three  times  as  many  read  books.  Even 
among  American  college  graduates  fewer  than  half 
read  books." 

It  went  on  and  on;  I  was  so  tired  that,  as  I  read, 

The  Taste  of  the  Age 

the  phrase  read  books  kept  beating  in  my  brain,  and 
getting  mixed  up  with  Charlemagne:  compared  to 
other  major  monarchs,  I  thought  sleepily,  fewer 
than  one-fifth  of  Charlemagne  reads  books.  I  read 
on  as  best  as  I  could,  but  I  thought  of  the  preface 
to  Adventures  for  Readers,  and  the  letter  to  The 
Saturday  Review,  and  the  advertisement  in  The 
New  York  Times  Book  Review,  and  the  highest 
level  of  formal  education  in  the  world,  and  they  all 
went  around  and  around  in  my  head  and  said  to  me 
an  advertisement  named  Adventures  for  Non- 

"In  these  anxious  days,  reading  books  offers  a 
practical  antidote  to  sorrow,  cynicism,  and  despair. 
But  books  are  often,  in  the  original,  difficult  reading. 

"If  you  have  too  seldom  opened  books  because 
the  way  they  are  written  makes  them  hard  for  you 
to  understand,  our  Revised  Standard  Versions  of 
books,  in  their  simplified,  televised  form,  can  bring 
you  an  exciting  new  experience. 

"Here  are  books  so  enjoyable  you  find  you  turn 
them  on  twice  as  often." 

I  shook  myself;  I  was  dreaming.  As  I  went  to 
bed  the  words  of  the  eighth-grade  class's  teacher, 
when  the  class  got  to  Evangeline,  kept  echoing  in 
my  ears:  "We're  coming  to  a  long  poem  now,  boys 
and  girls.  Now  don't  be  babies  and  start  counting 
the  pages."  I  lay  there  like  a  baby,  counting  the 
pages  over  and  over,  counting  the  pages. 

The  Schools  of  Yesteryear 
(A  One-Sided  Dialogue) 

uncle  wadsworth  ( a  deep,  slightly  grained  or  cor- 
rugated, com\  or  table-sounding  voice,  accom- 
panied by  an  accordion):  School  days,  school 
days,  dear  old  golden  rule — 

alvin  (Alum's  voice  is  young) :  Stop,  Uncle  Wads- 

uncle  wadsworth:  Why  should  I  stop,  Alvin  boy? 

alvin:  Because  it  isn't  so,  Uncle  Wadsworth.  (With 
scorn.)  Dear  old  golden  rule  days!  That's  just 
nostalgia,  just  sentimentality.  The  man  that 
wrote  that  song  was  just  too  old  to  remember 
what  it  was  really  like.  Why,  kids  hated  school 
in  those  days — they  used  to  play  hookey  all  the 
time.  It's  different  now.  Children  like  to  go  to 
school  now. 

uncle  wadsworth:  Finished,  Alvin  boy? 

alvin:  Finished,  Uncle  Wadsworth. 

uncle  wadsworth:  School  days,  school  days,  dear 
old  golden  rule  days,  Readin'  and  'ritin'  and  'rith- 
metic,  Taught  to — 


a  a  The  Schools  of  Yesteryear 

alvix:  Stop,  Uncle  Wadsworth! 

uncle  wadsworth:  Why  should  I  stop  this  time, 
Alvin  boy? 

alvix:  Reading  and  writing  and  arithmetic!  What 
a  curriculum!  Why,  it  sounds  like  it  was  invented 
by  an  illiterate.  How  could  a  curriculum  like 
that  prepare  you  for  life?  No  civics,  no  social 
studies,  no  hygiene;  no  home  economics,  no 
manual  training,  no  physical  education!  And 
extra-curricular  activities — where  were  they? 

uncle  wadsworth:  Where  indeed?  Where  are  the 
extra-curricular  activities  of  yesteryear?  Shall  I 
go  on,  Alvin  boy? 

alvix:  Go  ahead,  Uncle  Wadsworth. 

uxcle  wadsworth:  School  days,  school  days,  dear 
old  golden  rule  days,  Readin'  and  'ritin'  and  'rith- 
metic,  Taught  to  the  tune  of  a  hick'ry  stick — 

alvix:  Stop!  Stop!  Stop,  Uncle  Wadsworth!  (He 
pants  with  emotion.)  Honestly,  Uncle,  I  don't 
see  how  you  can  bear  to  say  it.  Taught  to  the 
tune  of  a  hickory  stick/  .  .  .  Imagine  having  to 
beat  poor  little  children  with  a  stick!  Thank  God 
those  dark  old  days  of  ignorance  and  fear  and 
compulsion  are  over,  and  we  just  appeal  to  the 
child's  better  nature,  and  get  him  to  adjust,  and 
try  to  make  him  see  that  what  he  likes  to  do  is 
what  we  want  him  to  do. 

uxcle  wadsworth:  Finished,  Alvin  boy? 

alvix:  Finished,  Uncle  Wadsworth. 

uxcle  wadsworth:  Well,  so  am  I.  I  can't  seem  to 

The  Schools  of  Yesteryear  a? 

get  going  in  this  song — every  fifty  yards  I  get 
a  puncture  and  have  to  stop  for  air.  You  go  on 
for  a  while  and  let  me  interrupt  you.  Go  ahead, 

alvin:  Go  ahead  where? 

uncle  wadsworth:  Go  ahead  about  those  dark  old 
days  of  ignorance  and  fear  and  compulsion.  It 
makes  my  flesh  creep — and  I'm  just  like  the  fat 
boy,  I  like  to  have  my  flesh  creep. 

alvin:  What  fat  boy? 

uncle  wadsworth:  The  one  in  Pickwick  Papers. 
(Silence  from  Alvin.)  You  know,  Pickwick  Pa- 
pers. (Silence  from  Alvin.)  It's  a  book,  son — 
a  book  by  Charles  Dickens.  Ever  read  any  Dick- 

alvin:  Oh,  sure,  sure.  I  read  The  Tale  of  Two 
Cities  in  high  school.  And  Oliver  Twist — well, 
really  I  didn't  read  it  exactly,  I  read  it  in  Illus- 
trated Classics.  And  I  saw  Great  Expectations 
in  the  movies. 

uncle  wadsworth:  Why,  you  and  Dickens  are  old 
friends.  But  go  on  about  the — the  schools  of  yes- 

alvin:  Well,  I  will,  Uncle  Wadsworth.  After  all, 
it's  only  because  I  was  lucky  enough  to  be  born 
now  that  I  didn't  have  to  go  to  one  of  those 
schools  myself.  I  can  just  see  myself  trudging  to 
school  barefooted  in  my  overalls — because  they 
didn't  even  have  school  buses  then,  you  know — 

uncle  wadsworth:  Not  a  one!  If  a  school  bus  had 

a  ft  The  Schools  of  Yesteryear 

come  for  me  I'd  have  thought  it  was  a  patrol 
wagon  someone  had  painted  orange  for  Hal- 

alvin:  Well,  there  I  am  trudging  along,  and  I'm 
not  only  trudging,  I'm  limping, 

uncle  wadsworth:  Stub  your  toe? 

alvin  (with  bitter  irony):  Stub  my  toe!  I'm  limp- 
ing because  I'm  sore — sore  all  over,  where  the 
teacher  beat  me. 

uncle  wadsworth:  All  over  isn't  where  the  teacher 
beat  you,  Alvin  boy — I  know. 

alvin:  All  right,  all  right!  And  when  I  get  to  the 
school  is  it  the  Consolidated  School?  Is  there  a 
lunch-room  and  a  'chute-the-'chute  and  a  jungle- 
gym?  Is  it — is  it  like  schools  ought  to  be?  Uh- 
uh!  That  school  has  one  room,  and  it's  red. 

uncle  wadsworth:  You  mean  that  even  in  those 
days  the  Communists — 

alvin:  No,  no,  not  Red,  red!  Red  like  a  barn.  And 
when  I  get  inside,  the  teacher  is  an  old  maid  that 
looks  like  a  broomstick,  or  else  a  man  that  looks 
like  a — that  looks  like  Ichabod  Crane.  And  then 
this  Crane-type  teacher  says  to  me,  real 
stern:  "Alvin  McKinley,  stand  up!  Are  you 
aware,  Alvin,  that  it  is  three  minutes  past  seven?" 

uncle  wadsworth:  Three  minutes  past  seven! 
What  on  earth  are  you  and  Ichabod  Crane  doing 
in  school  at  that  ungodly  hour? 

alvin:  That's  when  school  starts  then!  Or  six, 
maybe.  .  .  .  Then  he  says,  pointing  his  finger  at 
me  in  a  terrible  voice:   "Three  minutes  tardy! 

The  Schools  of  Yesteryear  aj 

And  what,  Alvin,  what  did  I  warn  you  would 
happen  to  you  if  you  ever  again  were  so  much 
as  one  minute  tardy?  What  did  I  tell  you  that 
I  would  do  to  you?"  And  I  say  in  a  little  meek 
voice,  because  I'm  scared,  I  say:  "Whip  me."  And 
he  says:  "YES,  WHIP  YOU!"  And  I  say— 

uncle  wadsworth:  You  say,  "Oh,  don't  whip  pore 
Uncle  Tom,  massa!  If  only  you  won't  whip  him 
he  won't  never — " 

alvin:  Oh,  stop  it,  Uncle  Wadsworth!  That's  not 
what  I  say  at  all,  and  you  know  it.  How  can  I  tell 
about  the  schools  of  yesteryear  if  you  won't  be 
serious?  Well,  anyway,  he  says  to  me:  "Have  you 
anything  to  say  for  yourself?"  And  I  say,  "Please, 
Mr.  Crane,  it  was  four  miles,  and  I  had  the  cows 
to  milk,  and  Ma  was  sick  and  I  had  to  help  Sister 
cook  the  hoe-cakes — " 

uncle  wadsworth:  Hoe-cakes!  {With  slow  rel- 
ish.) Hoe-cakes.  .  .  .  Why,  I  haven't  had  any 
hoe-cakes  since.  .  .  .  How'd  you  hear  about 
hoe-cakes,  Alvin  boy? 

alvin:  Uncle  Wadsworth,  if  you  keep  interrupting 
me  about  irrevu — irrelevancies,  how  can  I  get 

uncle  wadsworth:  I  apologize,  Alvin;  I  am  silent, 

alvin:  Then  he  looks  at  me  and  he  smiles  like — 
like  somebody  in  Dick  Tracy,  and  he  says:  "Al- 
vin, spare  your  breath"  And  then  he  walks  over 
to  the  corner  next  to  the  stove,  and  do  you  know 
what's  in  the  corner? 

48  The  Schools  of  Yesteryear 

uncle  wads  worth:  What's  in  the  corner? 

alvin:  Sticks.  Sticks  of  every  size.  Hundreds  of 
sticks.  And  then  he  reaches  down  and  takes  the 
biggest  one  and — and — 

uncle  wadsworth:  And — and — 

alvin:  And  he  beats  me. 

uncle  wadsworth  (with  a  big  sigh):  The  Lord 
be  praised!  For  a  minute  I  was  afraid  he  was  go- 
ing to  burn  you  at  the  stake.  But  go  ahead,  Alvin. 

alvin:  Go  ahead? 

uncle  wadsworth:  It's  still  just  ten  minutes  after 
seven.  Tell  me  about  your  day — your  school-day 
— your  dear  old  golden  rule  day. 

alvin:  Well,  then  he  says:  "Take  your  Readers!" 
And  I  look  around  and  everybody  in  the  room, 
from  little  kids  just  six  years  old  with  their  front 
teeth  out  to  great  big  ones,  grown  men  prac- 
tically that  look  like  they  ought  to  be  on  the 
Chicago  Bears — everybody  in  the  room  picks  up 
the  same  book  and  they  all  start  reading  aloud 
out  of  the — McGuffey  Reader!  Ha-ha-ha!  The 
McGuffey  Reader! 

uncle  wadsworth:  And  why,  Alvin,  do  you 

alvin:  Because  it's  funny,  that's  why!  The  McGuf- 
fey Reader! 

uncle  wadsworth:  Have  you  ever  seen  a  McGuf- 
fey Reader,  Alvin? 

alvin:  How  could  I  of,  Uncle  Wadsworth?  I  didn't 
go  to  school  back  in  those  days. 

The  Schools  of  Yesteryear  aq 

uncle  wadsworth:  Your  account  was  so  vivid  that 
for  a  moment  I  forgot.  .  .  .  You've  never  seen 
such  a  Reader.  Well,  I  have. 

alvin:  Oh,  sure — you  used  one  in  school  yourself, 
didn't  you? 

uncle  wadsworth:  No,  Alvin — strange  as  it  seems, 
I  did  not;  nor  did  I  ever  shake  the  hand  of  Rob- 
ert E.  Lee,  nor  did  I  fight  in  the  War  of  1812, 
nor  did  I  get  to  see  Adam  and  Eve  and  the  Ser- 
pent. My  father  used  a  McGuffey  Reader;  I  did 

alvin:  I'm  sorry,  Uncle  Wadsworth. 

uncle  wadsworth:  No  need,  no  need.  .  .  .  Alvin, 
if  you  will  go  over  to  the  bookcase  and  reach 
into  the  right  hand  corner  of  the  top  shelf,  you 
will  find  a  book — a  faded,  dusty,  red-brown 

alvin:  Here  it  is.  It's  all  worn,  and  there're  gold 
letters  on  the  back,  and  it  says  Appletons'  Fifth 

uncle  wadsworth:  Exactly.  Appletons*  Fifth 
Reader.  Week  before  last,  at  an  antique-dealer's 
over  near  Hillsboro,  side  by  side  with  a  glass 
brandy-flask  bearing  the  features  of  the  Father  of 
our  Country,  George  Washington,  I  found  this 

alvin:  Look  how  yellow  the  paper  is!  And  brown 
spots  all  over  it.  .  .  .  Gee,  they  must  have  used 
it  all  over  the  country;  it  says  New  York,  Bos- 
ton, and  Chicago,  1 880,  and  it  was  printed  in  1 878 

r  o  The  Schools  of  Yesteryear 

and  1879  too,  and — look  at  the  picture  across 
from  it,  it's  one  of  those  old  engravings.  I  guess 
they  didn't  have  photographs  in  those  days. 

uncle  wadsworth:  Guess  again,  Alvin  boy.  And 
what  is  the  subject  of  this  old  engraving? 

alvin:  A  girl  with  a  bucket,  and  back  behind  her 
somebody's  plowing,  and  it's  dawn.  And  there's 
some  poetry  underneath. 

uncle  wadsworth: 

While  the  plorcjman  near  at  hand 
Whistles  o'er  the  furrowed  land 
And  the  milkmaid  singeth  blithe.  .  .  . 

alvin:  That's  right!  You  mean  to  say  you  memo- 
rized it? 

uncle  wadsworth:  Fifty  years  ago,  Alvin.  Doesn't 
any  of  it  have  a — a  familiar  ring? 

alvin:  Well,  to  tell  the  truth,  Uncle  Wads- 
worth. .  .  . 

uncle  wadsworth:  What  does  it  say  in  small  let- 
ters down  at  the  right-hand  corner  of  the  page? 

alvin:  It  says — "U  Allegro,  page  420."  V Allegro! 
Sure!  sure!  Why,  I  read  it  in  sophomore  English. 
We  spent  two  whole  days  on  that  poem  and  on 
— you  know,  that  other  one  that  goes  with  it. 
They're  by  John  Milton. 

uncle  wadsworth:  Yes,  Milton.  And  in  that 
same — 

alvin:  But  Uncle  Wadsworth,  you  don't  mean  to 
say  they  had  Milton  in  a  Fifth  Reader!  Why,  we 
were  sophomores  in  college,  and  there  were  two 
football  players  that  were  juniors,  and  believe 

The  Schools  of  Yesteryear  r  j 

me,  it  was  all  Dr.  Taylor  could  do  to  get  us 
through  that  poem.  How  could  little  kids  in  the 
fifth  grade  read  Milton? 

uncle  wadsworth:  Sit  down,  Alvin.  Do  you  re- 
member reading,  at  about  the  same  time  you  read 

"L'Allegro,"  a  poem  called  "Elegy  Written  in  a 
Country  Churchyard"? 

alvin:  Well — 

uncle  wadsworth:  Gray's  "Elegy"? 

alvin:  Say  me  some,  Uncle  Wadsworth. 

uncle  wadsworth: 

Full  many  a  gem  of  purest  ray  serene 
The  dark  unfathom'd  caves  of  ocean  bear; 
Full  many  a  flower  is  born  to  blush  unseen 
And  waste  its  sweetness  on  the  desert  air. 

alvin:  Sure,  I  remember  that  one.  I  liked  that  one. 

uncle  wadsworth:  Well,  Alvin,  that  very  poem — 

alvin:  Oh  no,  Uncle  Wadsworth!  You're  not  going 
to  tell  me  that  that  poem  was  in  a  Fifth  Reader! 

uncle  wadsworth:  No,  Alvin,  I  am  not.  I  want 
you  to  ...  to  steel  yourself.  That  poem  was 
not  in  Appletons'  Fifth  Reader,  that  poem  was 
in  Appletons'  Fourth  Reader.  {Alvin  groans  in 
awe.)  And  Wordsworth — you  studied  Words- 
worth in  your  sophomore  English? 

alvin  (lifelessly):  Uh-huh. 

uncle  wadsworth:  There  are  four  of  Words- 
worth's poems  in  Appletons'  Fourth  Reader. 

alvin:  I  guess  in  the  Sixth  Reader  they  were  read- 
ing Einstein. 

uncle  wadsworth:  No,  but  in  the  Fifth  Reader — 

r  2  The  Schools  of  Yesteryear 

run  your  eye  down  the  table  of  contents,  Alvin 
— there  are  selections  by  Addison,  Bishop 
Berkeley,  Bunyan,  Byron,  Coleridge,  Carlyle, 
Cervantes,  Coleridge — the  whole  Ancient  Mari- 
ner, Alvin — Defoe,  De  Quincy,  Dickens,  Emer- 
son, Fielding,  Hawthorne,  George  Herbert, 
Hazlitt,  Jefferson,  Dr.  Johnson,  Shakespeare, 
Shelley,  Sterne,  Swift,  Tennyson,  Thoreau,  Mark 
Twain — 

alvin:    It's   hard   to   believe. 

uncle  wadsworth:  And  there  are  also  selections 
from  simpler  writers — 

alvin:  Yeah,  simple  ones — 

uncle  wadsworth:  Simpler  writers  such  as  Scott, 
Burns,  Longfellow,  Cooper,  Audubon,  Poe,  Oli- 
ver Wendell  Holmes,  Benjamin  Franklin,  Wash- 
ington Irving.  Alvin,  have  you  ever — at  college 
perhaps — ever  read  anything  by  Goethe? 

alvin:  I  don't  believe  so. 

uncle  wadsworth:  Well,  Alvin  boy,  if  after  milk- 
ing the  cow  and  baking  the  hoe-cakes,  you  had 
limped  four  miles  barefoot  to  that  one-room  red 
schoolhouse  of  yours,  and  had  been  beaten  by 
that  Ichabod  Crane  of  a  teacher,  you  would  still 
have  got  to  read,  in  your  Appletons'  Fifth 
Reader,  one  poem  and  five  pages  of  prose  from 
Goethe's  immortal  Wilheim  Meister.  ...  As  it 
is  you  don't  limp,  nobody  beats  you,  and  you 
read — whom  do  you  read,  Alvin?  Tell  me  some 
of  the  writers  you  read  in  the  fifth  grade. 

alvin:    I   don't   exactly   remember  their   names. 

The  Schools  of  Yesteryear  r  <, 

uncle  wadsworth:  There  in  the  bookcase — that 
red  and  yellow  and  black  book  there — is  the  Fifth 
Reader  of  today.  Days  and  Deeds,  it  is  called;  it 
is,  I  believe,  the  most  popular  Fifth  Reader  in 
the  country.  That's  right,  hand  it  over.  Here  on 
page  3  is  its  table  of  contents;  come,  Alvin,  read 
out  to  me  the  names  of  the  writers  from  whom 
the  children  of  today  get  their  knowledge  of  life 
and  literature. 

alvin:  Well,  the  first  one's  Fletcher  D.  Slater,  and 
then  Nora  Burglon,  and  Sterling  North  and 
Ruth  G.  Plowhead— 

uncle  wadsworth:  Plowhead? 

alvin:  That's  what  it  says.  Then  Ruth  E.  Kennell, 
Gertrude  Robinson,  Philip  A.  Rollins,  J.  Walker 
McSpadden,  Merlin  M. — 

uncle  wadsworth:  You're  sure  you're  not  making 
up  some  of  these  names? 

alvin:  How  could  I?  Merlin  M.  Taylor,  Sanford 
Tousey,  Gladys  M.  Wick,  Marie  Barton,  Mar- 
garet Leighton,  Edward  C.  James — no,  Janes, 
Leonard  K.  Smith,  P.  L.  Travers,  Esther  Shep- 
herd, James  C.  Bowman,  Dr.  Seuss — 

uncle  wadsworth:  Land!  Land! 

alvin:  No,  Seuss.  Seuss. 

uncle  wadsworth:  I  speak  figuratively.  I  mean 
that  here,  at  last,  is  a  name  I  recognize,  the  name 
of  a  well-known  humorist  and  cartoonist. 

alvin:  Oh.  Then  there's  Armstrong  Sperry, 
Myra  M.  Dodds,  Alden  G.  Stevens,  Lavinia  R. 
Davis,  Lucy  M.  Crockett,  Raymond  Jannson, 

^4  The  Schools  of  Yesteryear 

Hubert  Evans,   Ruth  E.  Tanner,   Three  Boy 
Scouts — 

uncle  wadsworth:  Three  Boy  Scouts.  An  Indian, 
no  doubt.  .  .  .  Never  heard  of  him. 

alvin:  Heard  of  them.  There're  three  of  them. 

uncle  wadsworth:  Three?  Thirty!  Three  hun- 
dred! They're  all  Boy  Scouts!  Alvin,  these  are 
names  only  a  mother  could  love — names  only  a 
mother  would  know.  That  they  are  honest  names, 
respected  names,  the  names  of  worthy  citizens,  I 
have  not  the  slightest  doubt;  but  when  I  reflect 
that  it  is  these  names  that  have  replaced  those  of 
Goethe,  of  Shakespeare,  of  Cervantes,  of  Dr. 
Johnson — of  all  the  other  great  and  good  writers 
of  the  Appleton  Fifth  Reader — when  I  think  of 
this,  Alvin,  I  am  confused,  I  am  dismayed,  I  am 

alvin:  Uncle  Wadsworth,  you've  got  all  red  in  the 

uncle  wadsworth:  There  are  also  in  the  Apple- 
ton  Fifth  Reader,  Alvin,  elaborate  analyses  of  the 
style,  rhetoric,  and  organization  of  the  literary 
works  included;  penetrating  discussions  of  their 
logic;  highly  technical  instructions  for  reading 
them  aloud  in  the  most  effective  way;  discus- 
sions of  etymology,  spelling,  pronunciation,  the 
general  development  of  the  English  language. 
And,  Alvin,  these  are  not  written  in  the  insipid 
baby-talk  thought  appropriate  for  children  to- 
day. Here,  in  a  paragraph  about  Don  Quixote, 
is  one  of  the  Fifth  Reader's  typical  discussions  of 

The  Schools  of  Yesteryear  r  c 

logic:  "The  question  here  involved  is  the  old 
sophism  of  Eubulides.  ...  Is  a  man  a  liar  who 
says  that  he  tells  lies?  If  he  is,  then  he  does  not 
tell  lies;  and  if  he  does  not  tell  lies,  is  he  a  liar? 
If  not,  then  is  not  his  assertion  a  lie?  ...  It  will 
be  noticed  that  the  perplexity  comes  from  the 
fact  of  self -relation:  the  one  assertion  relates  to 
another  assertion  of  the  same  person;  and  the  one 
assertion  being  conditioned  upon  the  other,  the 
difficulty  arises.  It  is  the  question  of  self-contra- 
diction— of  two  mutually  contradictory  state- 
ments, one  must  be  false.  It  is  a  sophism,  but  one 
that  continually  occurs  among  unsophisticated 
reasoners.  It  is  also  a  practical  sophism,  for  it  is 
continually  being  acted  in  the  world  around  us 
(e.g.,  a  person  seeks  pleasure  by  such  means  that, 
while  he  enjoys  himself,  he  undermines  his  health, 
or  sins  against  his  conscience,  and  thus  draws  in- 
evitably on  him  physical  suffering  and  an  uneasy 
soul).  It  is  therefore  well  worthy  of  study  in  its 
purely  logical  form.  .  .  .  All  universal  negative 
assertions  (and  a  lie  is  a  negation)  are  liable  to 
involve  the  assertion  itself  in  self-contradiction." 

alvin:  Ohhhhh.  .  .  .  Ohhhhh.  ...  If  I'd  gone  to 
school  then,  I'd  have  known  what  that  means  in 
the  fifth  grade ? 

uncle  wadsworth:  You'd  have  known  it  or  you 
never  would  have  got  into  the  sixth  grade. 

alvin:  Then  I'd  be  the  oldest  settler  in  the  fifth 
grade,  because  I'm  a  junior  in  college  and  I  still 
can't  understand  it. 

r  5  The  Schools  of  Yesteryear 

uncle  wadsworth:  Yes,  it's  surprising  what  those 
fifth-graders  were  expected  to  know.  The  Reader 
contains  a  little  essay  called  "Hidden  Beauties 
of  Classic  Authors,"  by  a  writer  named  N.  P. 

alvin:  N.  P.  Willis.  ...  I  guess  he  was  Ruth  G. 
Plowhead's  grandpa. 

uncle  wadsworth:  Yes,  he  isn't  exactly  a  classic 
author  himself.  He  tells  you  how  he  fell  in  love 
with  Beaumont  and  Fletcher,  and  the  Faerie 
Queene,  and  Comus,  and  The  Rape  of  the  Lock; 
he  says  that  he  knows  "no  more  exquisite  sensa- 
tion than  this  warming  of  the  heart  to  an  old 
author;  and  it  seems  to  me  that  the  most  delicious 
portion  of  intellectual  existence  is  the  brief  pe- 
riod in  which,  one  by  one,  the  great  minds  of 
old  are  admitted  with  all  their  time-mellowed 
worth  to  the  affections."  Well,  at  the  end  of  the 
essay  there're  some  questions;  what  do  you  think 
is  the  first  thing  they  ask  those  fifth-graders? 

alvin:  What? 

uncle  wadsworth:  "Have  you  read  Milton's 
Comus? — Pope's  Rape  of  the  Lock?" 

alvin:  Now  Uncle  Wadsworth,  you've  got  to  ad- 
mit that  that's  a  terrible  thing  to  ask  a  little  boy 
in  the  fifth  grade. 

uncle  wadsworth:  /  think  it's  a  terrible  thing.  But 
they  didn't.  As  a  matter  of  fact,  /  think  it's  a  ter- 
rible thing  to  ask  a  big  boy  in  his  junior  year  in 
college.  How  about  it,  Alvin?  Have  you  read 
Milton's  Comus?  Pope's  Rape  of  the  Lock? 

The  Schools  of  Yesteryear  c  y 

alvin:  Well,  to  tell  you  the  truth,  Uncle  Wads- 
worth — 

uncle  wadsworth:  Tell  ahead. 

alvin:  Well,  to — well — well,  it  just  isn't  the  sort 
of  question  you  can  answer  yes  or  no.  I  may 
have  read  Milton's  Comus;  it's  the  kind  of  thing 
we  read  hundreds  of  things  like  in  our  sophomore 
survey  course;  I  guess  the  chances  are  ten  to  one 
I  read  it,  and  a  year  ago  I  could  have  told  you 
for  certain  whether  or  not  I  read  it,  but  right 
now  all  I  can  say  is  if  I  didn't  read  it,  it  would 
surprise  me  a  lot. 

uncle  wadsworth:  And  The  Rape  of  the  Lock? 

alvin:  No. 

uncle  wadsworth:  No?  You  mean  you  know  you 
didn't  read  it? 

alvin:  Uh-huh. 

uncle  wadsworth:  How  do  you  know? 

alvin:  I — 

uncle  wadsworth:  Go  on,  go  on. 

alvin:  Well  Uncle  Wadsworth,  it  seems  to  me  that 
a  book  with  a  title  like  that,  if  I'd  read  it  I'd  re- 
member it. 

uncle  wadsworth:  Alvin,  if  you  weren't  my  own 
nephew  I'd — I'd  be  proud  to  have  invented  you. 
.  .  .  Here's  another  of  those  poems,  the  kind  that 
you  read  in  your  sophomore  year  in  college  and 
that  your  great-grandfather  read  in  the  Fifth 
Reader.  It's  by  George  Herbert,  the  great  reli- 
gious poet  George  Herbert.  Read  it  to  me,  Alvin; 
and  when  you've  read  it,  tell  me  what  it  means. 

^  g  The  Schools  of  Yesteryear 

alvin  (in  careful  singsong):  Sunday.  By  George 

O  Day  most  calm,  most  bright! 
The  fruit  of  this,  the  next  'world's  bud; 
The  endorsement  of  supreme  delight, 
Writ  by  a  Friend,  and  with  his  blood; 
The  couch  of  Time:  Care's  calm  and  bay: 
The  week  were  dark  but  for  thy  light; 
Thy  torch  doth  show  the  way. 

The  other  days  and  thou 
Make  up  one  man,  whose  face  thou  art, 
Knocking  at  heaven  with  thy  brow: 
The  working-days  are  the  back  part; 
The  burden  of  the  week  lies  there; 
Making  the  whole  to  stoop  and  bow, 
Till  thy  release  appear. 

Man  had — man  had — 

Uncle  Wadsworth,  I'm  all  mixed  up.  I've  been 
all  mixed  up.  And  if  you  ask  me  that  fifth  grade 
was  mixed  up  too. 

uncle  wadsworth:  Where  did  you  first  begin  to 
feel  confused? 

alvin:  I  never  did  not  feel  confused. 

uncle  wadsworth:  Surely  the  first  line — 

alvin:  Yeah.  Yeah.  The  first  one  was  all  right.  O 
Day  most  calm,  most  bright!  That  means  it's 
Sunday,  and  it's  all  calm  and  bright,  the  weather's 
all  calm  and  bright.  Then  it  says,  the  fruit  of  this. 
.  .  .  The  fruit  of  this.  What's  the  fruit  of  this? 

The  Schools  of  Yesteryear  *  q 

uncle  wadsworth:  The  fruit  of  this,  the  next 
world's  bud.  World  is  understood. 

alvin:  Understood? 

uncle  wadsworth:  Yes.  The  fruit  of  this  world 
and  the  bud  of  the  next  world. 

alvin:  Oh.  .  .  .  The  endorsement  of  supreme  de- 
light. (Pauses.)  The  endorsement  of  supreme  de- 
light. .  .  .  Uncle  Wadsworth,  a  line  like  that — 
you've  got  to  admit  a  line  like  that's  obscure. 

uncle  wadsworth:  It  means  that — it  says  that 
Sunday  is  like  the  endorsement  of  a  check  or 
note;  because  of  the  endorsement  this  supreme 
delight,  our  salvation,  is  negotiable,  we  can 
cash  it. 

alvin:  Oh.  .  .  .  Like  endorsing  a  check.  Writ  by  a 
Friend — Friend's  got  a  capital  F.  ...  Oh!  That 
means  it  was  written  by  a  Quaker.  ( Uncle  Wads- 
worth laughs.)  But  that's  what  it  does  mean.  We 
live  on  a  road  named  the  Friendly  Road  because 
it  goes  to  a  Quaker  church.  If  Friend  doesn't 
mean  Quaker  why's  it  got  a  capital  F? 

uncle  wadsworth:  Writ  by  a  Friend,  and  with  his 
blood.  If  you're  talking  about  church  and  Sunday 
and  the  next  world,  and  mention  a  Friend  who 
has  written  something  with  his  blood,  who  is  that 
Friend,  Alvin? 

alvin:  Oh.  .  .  .  The  couch  of  Time;  Care's  calm 
and  bay.  .  .  .  (Pauses.)  Uncle  Wadsworth,  do 
we  have  to  read  poetry? 

uncle  wadsworth:  Of  course  not,  Alvin.  Nobody 

^0  The  Schools  of  Yesteryear 

else  does,  why  should  we?  Let's  get  back  to  prose. 
Here's  the  way  the  Fifth  Reader  talks  about 
climbing  a  mountain:  "Some  part  of  the  be- 
holder, even  some  vital  part,  seems  to  escape 
through  the  loose  grating  of  his  ribs  as  he  ascends. 
...  He  is  more  lone  than  you  can  imagine. 
There  is  less  of  substantial  thought  and  fair  un- 
derstanding in  him  than  in  the  plains  where  men 
inhabit.  His  reason  is  dispersed  and  shadowy, 
more  thin  and  subtle,  like  the  air.  Vast,  Titanic, 
inhuman  Nature  has  got  him  at  disadvantage, 
caught  him  alone,  and  pilfers  him  of  some  of  his 
divine  faculty.  She  does  not  smile  on  him  as  in  the 
plains.  She  seems  to  say  sternly,  Why  come  ye 
here  before  your  time?  .  .  .  Why  seek  me 
where  I  have  not  called  you,  and  then  complain 
because  you  find  me  but  a  stepmother?  Shouldst 
thou  freeze,  or  starve,  or  shudder  thy  life  away, 
here  is  no  shrine,  nor  altar,  nor  any  access  to  my 
ear.  "Chaos  and  ancient  Night,  I  come  no  spy/ 
With  purpose  to  explore  or  to  disturb/  The 
secrets  of  your  realm — "  '  " 

alvtn:  Uncle  Wadsworth,  if  the  prose  is  like  that, 
I'd  just  as  soon  have  stayed  with  the  poetry. 
Didn't  they  have  any  plain  American  writers  in 
that  Fifth  Reader? 

uncle  wadsworth:  Plain  American  writers?  That 
was  Thoreau  I  was  reading  you.  Well,  if  he's  too 
hard,  here's  what  the  Fifth  Reader  has  to  say 
about  him.  It's  talking  about  his  account  of  the 
battle  between  the  black  ants  and  the  red:  "The 

The  Schools  of  Yesteryear  5 1 

style  of  this  piece  is  an  imitation  of  the  heroic 
style  of  Homer's  'Iliad,'  and  is  properly  a  'mock- 
heroic'  The  intention  of  the  author  is  two-fold: 
half -seriously  endowing  the  incidents  of  every- 
day life  with  epic  dignity,  in  the  belief  that  there 
is  nothing  mean  and  trivial  to  the  poet  and  phi- 
losopher, and  that  it  is  the  man  that  adds  dignity 
to  the  occasion,  and  not  the  occasion  that  digni- 
fies the  man;  half -satirically  treating  the  human 
events  alluded  to  as  though  they  were  non-heroic, 
and  only  fit  to  be  applied  to  the  events  of  animal 

alvin  (wonderingly):  Why,  it's  just  like  old  Tay- 

uncle  wadsworth:  Professor  Taylor  would  lec- 
ture to  you  in  that  style? 

alvin:  He'd  get  going  that  way,  but  pretty  soon 
he'd  see  we  didn't  know  what  he  meant,  and  then 
he'd  talk  so  we  could  understand  him.  .  .  .  Well, 
if  the  Fifth  Reader  sounds  like  that  about  ants, 
I  sure  don't  want  to  hear  it  about  scansion  and 

uncle  wadsworth:  But  Alvin,  wouldn't  you  like 
to  be  able  to  understand  it?  Don't  you  wish  you'd 
had  it  in  the  fifth  grade  and  known  what  it  was 
talking  about? 

alvin:  Sure,  sure!  Would  I  have  made  old  Taylor's 
eyes  pop  out!  All  we  ever  had  in  the  fifth  grade 
was  Boy  Scouts  going  on  hikes,  and  kids  going 
to  see  their  grandmother  for  Thanksgiving;  it 
was  easy. 

^2  The  Schools  of  Yesteryear 

uncle  wadsworth:  And  interesting? 

alvin:  Nah,  it  was  corny — the  same  old  stuff;  how 
can  you  make  stuff  like  that  interesting? 

uncle  wadsworth:  How  indeed? 

alvin:  But  how  did  things  like  Shakespeare  and 
Milton  and  Dickens  ever  get  in  a  Fifth  Reader? 

uncle  wadsworth:  Alvin,  they've  always  been 
there.  Yesterday,  here  in  the  United  States,  those 
things  were  in  the  Fifth  Reader;  today,  every- 
where else  in  the  world,  those  things  or  then- 
equivalent  are  in  the  Fifth  Reader;  it  is  only  here 
in  the  United  States,  today,  that  the  Fifth  Reader 
consists  of  Josie's  Home  Run,  by  Ruth  G.  Plow-, 
head,  and  A  Midnight  Lion  Hunt,  by  Three  Boy 
Scouts.  I  read,  in  a  recent  best-seller,  this  sen- 
tence: "For  the  first  time  in  history  Americans 
see  their  children  getting  less  education  than 
they  got  themselves."  That  may  be;  and  for  the 
first  time  in  history  Americans  see  a  book  on  why 
their  children  can't  read  becoming  a  best-seller, 
being  serialized  in  newspapers  across  the  nation. 
Alvin,  about  school-buildings,  health,  lunches, 
civic  responsibility,  kindness,  good  humor,  spon- 
taneity, we  have  nothing  to  learn  from  the 
schools  of  the  past;  but  about  reading,  with  pleas- 
ure and  understanding,  the  best  that  has  been 
thought  and  said  in  the  world — about  that  we. 
have  much  to  learn.  The  child  who  reads  and 
understands  the  Appleton  Fifth  Reader  is  well  on 
the  way  to  becoming  an  educated,  cultivated  hu- 
man being — and  if  he  has  to  do  it  sitting  in  a  one- 

The  Schools  of  Yesteryear  5  3 

room  schoolhouse,  if  he  has  to  do  it  sitting  on  a 
hollow  log,  he's  better  off  than  a  boy  sitting  in 
the  Pentagon  reading  Days  and  Deeds,  There's  a 
jug  of  cider  in  the  ice-box,  Alvin;  you  get  it,  I'll 
get  the  glasses;  and  let's  drink  a  toast  to — 

alvin:  To  the  Apple  ton  Fifth  Reader!  long  may 
she  read!   {They  drink.) 

uncle  wadsworth:  And  now,  Alvin,  let  us  con- 
clude the  meeting  with  a  song. 

alvin:  What  song? 

uncle  wadsworth:  What  song?  Alvin,  can  you 
ask?  Start  us  off,  Alvin! 

alvin:  School  days,  school  days.  .  .  . 

both:  Dear  old  golden  rule  days.  .  .  . 

alvin:  Louder,  Uncle  Wadsworth,  louder! 

both:  Readin'  and  'ritin'  and  'rithmetic 

Taught  to  the  tune  of  a  hick'ry  stick.  .  .  . 

{Alvin  and  Uncle  Wadsworth  and  the  accordion 
disappear  into  the  distance.) 

A  Sad  Heart 
at  the  Supermarket 

Th  e  Emperor  Augustus  would  sometimes  say 
to  his  Senate:  "Words  fail  me,  my  Lords; 
nothing  I  can  say  could  possibly  indicate  the  depth 
of  my  feelings  in  this  matter."  But  in  this  matter  of 
mass  culture,  the  mass  media,  I  am  speaking  not  as 
an  emperor  but  as  a  fool,  a  suffering,  complaining, 
helplessly  non-conforming  poet-or-artist-of-a-sort, 
far  off  at  the  obsolescent  rear  of  things;  what  I  say 
will  indicate  the  depth  of  my  feelings  and  the  shal- 
lowness and  one-sidedness  of  my  thoughts.  If  those 
English  lyric  poets  who  went  mad  during  the  eight- 
eenth century  had  told  you  why  the  Age  of  En- 
lightenment was  driving  them  crazy,  it  would  have 
had  a  kind  of  documentary  interest:  what  I  say 
may  have  a  kind  of  documentary  interest.  The  toad 
beneath  the  harrow  knows/  Exactly  where  each 
tooth-point  goes:  if  you  tell  me  that  the  field  is  be- 
ing harrowed  to  grow  grain  for  bread,  and  to  cre- 
ate a  world  in  which  there  will  be  no  more  famines, 
or  toads  either,  I  will  say:  "I  know";  but  let  me 


A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  6$ 

tell  you  where  the  tooth-points  go,  and  what  the 
harrow  looks  like  from  below. 

Advertising  men,  businessmen  speak  continually 
of  media  or  the  media  or  the  mass  media.  One  of 
their  trade  journals  is  named,  simply,  Media.  It  is  an 
impressive  word:  one  imagines  Mephistopheles  of- 
fering Faust  media  that  no  man  has  ever  known; 
one  feels,  while  the  word  is  in  one's  ear,  that  ab- 
stract, overmastering  powers,  of  a  scale  and  inten- 
sity unimagined  yesterday,  are  being  offered  one  by 
the  technicians  who  discovered  and  control  them — 
offered,  and  at  a  price.  The  word  has  the  clear  fatal 
ring  of  that  new  world  whose  space  we  occupy  so 
luxuriously  and  precariously;  the  world  that  pro- 
duces mink  stoles,  rockabilly  records,  and  tactical 
nuclear  weapons  by  the  million;  the  world  that 
Attila,  Galileo,  Hansel  and  Gretel  never  knew. 

And  yet,  it's  only  the  plural  of  medium.  "Me- 
dium," says  the  dictionary,  "that  which  lies  in  the 
middle;  hence,  middle  condition  or  degree  ...  A 
substance  through  which  a  force  acts  or  an  effect  is 
transmitted  .  .  .  That  through  or  by  which  any- 
thing is  accomplished;  as,  an  advertising  medium 
.  Biol.  A  nutritive  mixture  or  substance,  as 
broth,  gelatin,  agar,  for  cultivating  bacteria,  fungi, 


Let  us  name  our  trade  journal  The  Medium.  For 
all  these  media— television,  radio,  movies,  newspa- 
pers, magazines,  and  the  rest— are  a  single  medium, 
in  whose  depths  we  are  all  being  cultivated.  This 
Medium  is  of  middle  condition  or  degree,  mediocre; 

(56  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

it  lies  in  the  middle  of  everything,  between  a  man 
and  his  neighbor,  his  wife,  his  child,  his  self;  it,  more 
than  anything  else,  is  the  substance  through  which 
the  forces  of  our  society  act  upon  us,  and  make  us 
into  what  our  society  needs. 

And  what  does  it  need?  For  us  to  need. 

Oh,  it  needs  for  us  to  do  or  be  many  things: 
workers,  technicians,  executives,  soldiers,  house- 
wives. But  first  of  all,  last  of  all,  it  needs  for  us  to 
be  buyers;  consumers;  beings  who  want  much  and 
will  want  more — who  want  consistently  and  in- 
satiably. Find  some  spell  to  make  us  turn  away  from 
the  stoles,  the  records,  and  the  weapons,  and  our 
world  will  change  into  something  to  us  unimagina- 
ble. Find  some  spell  to  make  us  see  that  the  prod- 
uct or  service  that  yesterday  was  an  unthinkable 
luxury  today  is  an  inexorable  necessity,  and  our 
world  will  go  on.  It  is  the  Medium  which  casts 
this  spell — which  is  this  spell.  As  we  look  at  the 
television  set,  listen  to  the  radio,  read  the  maga- 
zines, the  frontier  of  necessity  is  always  being 
pushed  forward.  The  Medium  shows  us  what  our 
new  needs  are — how  often,  without  it,  we  should 
not  have  known! — and  it  shows  us  how  they  can  be 
satisfied:  they  can  be  satisfied  by  buying  some- 
thing. The  act  of  buying  something  is  at  the  root  of 
our  world;  if  anyone  wishes  to  paint  the  genesis  of 
things  in  our  society,  he  will  paint  a  picture  of  God 
holding  out  to  Adam  a  check-book  or  credit  card  or 

But  how  quickly  our  poor  naked  Adam  is  turned 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  6  J 

into  a  consumer,  is  linked  to  others  by  the  great 
chain  of  buying! 

No  outcast  he,  bewildered  and  depressed: 
Along  his  infant  veins  are  interfused 
The  gravitation  and  the  filial  bond 
Of  nature  that  connect  him  with  the  world. 

Children  of  three  or  four  can  ask  for  a  brand  of 
cereal,  sing  some  soap's  commercial;  by  the  time 
that  they  are  twelve  or  thirteen  they  are  not  chil- 
dren but  teen-age  consumers,  interviewed,  graphed, 
analyzed.  They  are  well  on  their  way  to  becoming 
that  ideal  figure  of  our  culture,  the  knowledgeable 
consumer.  Let  me  define  him:  the  knowledgeable 
consumer  is  someone  who,  when  he  comes  to  Wei- 
mar, knows  how  to  buy  a  Weimaraner. 

Daisy's  voice  sounded  like  money;  everything 
about  the  knowledgeable  consumer  looks  like  or 
sounds  like  or  feels  like  money,  and  informed 
money  at  that.  To  live  is  to  consume,  to  understand 
life  is  to  know  what  to  consume:  he  has  learned  to 
understand  this,  so  that  his  life  is  a  series  of  choices 

correct  ones — among  the  products  and  services 

of  the  world.  He  is  able  to  choose  to  consume 
something,  of  course,  only  because  sometime, 
somewhere,  he  or  someone  else  produced  some- 
thing—but just  when  or  where  or  what  no  longer 
seems  to  us  of  as  much  interest.  We  may  still  go  to 
Methodist  or  Baptist  or  Presbyterian  churches  on 
Sunday,  but  the  Protestant  ethic  of  frugal  industry, 
of  production  for  its  own  sake,  is  gone. 
Production  has  come  to  seem  to  our  society  not 

68  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

much  more  than  a  condition  prior  to  consumption. 
"The  challenge  of  today,"  an  advertising  agency- 
writes,  "is  to  make  the  consumer  raise  his  level  of 
demand."  This  challenge  has  been  met:  the  Medium 
has  found  it  easy  to  make  its  people  feel  the  continu- 
ally increasing  lacks,  the  many  specialized  dissatis- 
factions (merging  into  one  great  dissatisfaction, 
temporarily  assuaged  by  new  purchases)  that  it 
needs  for  them  to  feel.  When  in  some  magazine  we 
see  the  Medium  at  its  most  nearly  perfect,  we 
hardly  know  which  half  is  entertaining  and  distract- 
ing us,  which  half  making  us  buy:  some  advertise- 
ment may  be  more  ingeniously  entertaining  than 
the  text  beside  it,  but  it  is  the  text  which  has  made 
us  long  for  a  product  more  passionately.  When  one 
finishes  Holiday  or  Harper's  Bazaar  or  House  and 
Garden  or  The  New  Yorker  or  High  Fidelity  or 
Road  and  Track  or — but  make  your  own  list — 
buying  something,  going  somewhere  seems  a  neces- 
sary completion  to  the  act  of  reading  the  magazine. 
Reader,  isn't  buying  or  fantasy-buying  an  impor- 
tant part  of  your  and  my  emotional  life?  (If  you  re- 
ply, No,  I'll  think  of  you  with  bitter  envy  as  more 
than  merely  human;  as  deeply  un-American.)  It  is  a 
standard  joke  that  when  a  woman  is  bored  or  sad 
she  buys  something,  to  cheer  herself  up;  but  in 
this  respect  we  are  all  women  together,  and  can  hear 
complacently  the  reminder  of  how  feminine  this 
consumer-world  of  ours  has  become.  One  im- 
agines as  a  characteristic  dialogue  of  our  time  an  in- 
terview in  which  someone  is  asking  of  a  vague  gra- 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  69 

cious  figure,  a  kind  of  Mrs.  America:  "But  while 
you  waited  for  the  intercontinental  ballistic  missiles 
what  did  you  do?"  She  answers:  "I  bought  things." 
She  reminds  one  of  the  sentinel  at  Pompeii— a 
space  among  ashes,  now,  but  at  his  post:  she  too 
did  what  she  was  supposed  to  do.  Our  society  has 
delivered  us— most  of  us— from  the  bonds  of  neces- 
sity, so  that  we  no  longer  struggle  to  find  food  to 
keep  from  starving,  clothing  and  shelter  to  keep 
from  freezing;  yet  if  the  ends  for  which  we  work 
and  of  which  we  dream  are  only  clothes  and  res- 
taurants and  houses,  possessions,  consumption,  how 
have  we  escaped? — we  have  exchanged  man's  old 
bondage  for  a  new  voluntary  one.  It  is  more  than  a 
figure  of  speech  to  say  that  the  consumer  is  trained 
for  his  job  of  consuming  as  the  factory-worker  is 
trained  for  his  job  of  producing;  and  the  first  can  be 
a  longer,  more  complicated  training,  since  it  is  easier 
to  teach  a  man  to  handle  a  tool,  to  read  a  dial,  than 
it  is  to  teach  him  to  ask,  always,  for  a  name-brand 
aspirin— to  want,  someday,  a  stand-by  generator. 

What  is  that?  You  don't  know?  I  used  not  to 
know,  but  the  readers  of  House  Beautiful  all  know, 
so  that  now  I  know.  It  is  the  electrical  generator 
that  stands  in  the  basement  of  the  suburban  house- 
owner,  shining,  silent,  till  at  last  one  night  the  lights 
go  out,  the  furnace  stops,  the  freezer's  food  be- 
gins to — 

Ah,  but  it's  frozen  for  good,  the  lights  are  on  for- 
ever; the  owner  has  switched  on  the  stand-by  gen- 

70  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

But  you  don't  see  that  he  really  needs  the  gen- 
erator, you'd  rather  have  seen  him  buy  a  second 
car?  He  has  two.  A  second  bathroom?  He  has  four. 
When  the  People  of  the  Medium  doubled  every- 
thing, he  doubled  everything;  and  now  that  he's 
gone  twice  round  he  will  have  to  wait  three  years, 
or  four,  till  both  are  obsolescent — but  while  he 
waits  there  are  so  many  new  needs  that  he  can  sat- 
isfy, so  many  things  a  man  can  buy.  "Man  wants  but 
little  here  below/  Nor  wants  that  little  long,"  said 
the  poet;  what  a  lie!  Man  wants  almost  unlimited 
quantities  of  almost  everything,  and  he  wants  it  till 
the  day  he  dies. 

Sometimes  in  Life  or  Look  we  see  a  double-page 
photograph  of  some  family  standing  on  the  lawn 
among  its  possessions:  station-wagon,  swimming- 
pool,  power-cruiser,  sports-car,  tape-recorder,  tele- 
vision sets,  radios,  cameras,  power  lawn-mower, 
garden  tractor,  lathe,  barbecue-set,  sporting  equip- 
ment, domestic  appliances — all  the  gleaming,  gro- 
tesquely imaginative  paraphernalia  of  its  existence. 
It  was  hard  to  get  everything  on  two  pages,  soon  it 
will  need  four.  It  is  like  a  dream,  a  child's  dream 
before  Christmas;  yet  if  the  members  of  the  family 
doubt  that  they  are  awake,  they  have  only  to  reach 
out  and  pinch  something.  The  family  seems  pale  and 
small,  a  negligible  appendage,  beside  its  possessions; 
only  a  human  being  would  need  to  ask:  "Which 
owns  which?"  We  are  fond  of  saying  that  some- 
thing is  not  just  something  but  "a  way  of  life";  this 
too  is  a  way  of  life — our  way,  the  way. 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  y  I 

Emerson,  in  his  spare  stony  New  England,  a 
few  miles  from  Walden,  could  write:  "Things  are 
in  the  saddle/  And  ride  mankind."  He  could  say- 
more  now:  that  they  are  in  the  theater  and  studio, 
and  entertain  mankind;  are  in  the  pulpit  and  preach 
to  mankind.  The  values  of  business,  in  a  business  so- 
ciety like  our  own,  are  reflected  in  every  sphere: 
values  which  agree  with  them  are  reinforced, 
values  which  disagree  are  cancelled  out  or  have  lip 
service  paid  to  them.  In  business  what  sells  is  good, 
and  that's  the  end  of  it — that  is  what  good  means; 
if  the  world  doesn't  beat  a  path  to  your  door,  your 
mouse-trap  wasn't  better.  The  values  of  the  Me- 
dium— which  is  both  a  popular  business  itself  and 
the  cause  of  popularity  in  other  businesses — are 
business  values:  money,  success,  celebrity.  If  we  are 
representative  members  of  our  society,  the  Me- 
dium's values  are  ours;  and  even  if  we  are  unrep- 
resentative, non-conforming,  our  hands  are — too 
often — subdued  to  the  element  they  work  in,  and 
our  unconscious  expectations  are  all  that  we  con- 
sciously reject.  Darwin  said  that  he  always  immedi- 
ately wrote  down  evidence  against  a  theory  be- 
cause otherwise,  he'd  noticed,  he  would  forget  it; 
in  the  same  way,  we  keep  forgetting  the  existence 
of  those  poor  and  unknown  failures  whom  we 
might  rebelliously  love  and  admire. 

If  you're  so  smart  why  aren't  you  rich?  is  the 
ground-bass  of  our  society,  a  grumbling  and  quite 
unanswerable  criticism,  since  the  society's  non- 
monetary   values    are    directly    convertible    into 

-  2  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

money.  Celebrity  turns  into  testimonials,  lectures, 
directorships,  presidencies,  the  capital  gains  of  an 
autobiography  Told  To  some  professional  ghost 
who  photographs  the  man's  life  as  Bachrach  photo- 
graphs his  body.  I  read  in  the  newspapers  a  lyric 
and  perhaps  exaggerated  instance  of  this  direct  con- 
version of  celebrity  into  money:  his  son  accom- 
panied Adlai  Stevenson  on  a  trip  to  Russia,  took 
snapshots  of  his  father,  and  sold  them  (to  accom- 
pany his  father's  account  of  the  trip)  to  Look  for 
f  20,000.  When  Liberace  said  that  his  critics'  un- 
favorable reviews  hurt  him  so  much  that  he  cried  all 
the  way  to  the  bank,  one  had  to  admire  the  correct- 
ness and  penetration  of  his  press-agent's  wit — in 
another  age,  what  might  not  such  a  man  have  be- 

Our  culture  is  essentially  periodical:  we  believe 
that  all  that  is  deserves  to  perish  and  to  have  some- 
thing else  put  in  its  place.  We  speak  of  planned  ob- 
solescence, but  it  is  more  than  planned,  it  is  felt;  is 
an  assumption  about  the  nature  of  the  world.  We 
feel  that  the  present  is  better  and  more  interesting, 
more  real,  than  the  past,  and  that  the  future  will 
be  better  and  more  interesting,  more  real,  than  the 
present;  but,  consciously,  we  do  not  hold  against 
the  present  its  prospective  obsolescence.  Our  stand- 
ards have  become  to  an  astonishing  degree  the 
standards  of  what  is  called  the  world  of  fashion, 
where  mere  timeliness — being  orange  in  orange's 
year,  violet  in  violet's — is  the  value  to  which  all 
other  values  are  reducible.  In  our  society  the  word 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  y  -> 

old-fashioned  is  so  final  a  condemnation  that  some- 
one like  Norman  Vincent  Peale  can  say  about 
atheism  or  agnosticism  simply  that  it  is  old-fash- 
ioned; the  homely  recommendation  of  the  phrase 
Give  me  that  good  old-time  religion  has  become, 
after  a  few  decades,  the  conclusive  rejection  of  the 
phrase  old-fashioned  atheism. 

All  this  is,  at  bottom,  the  opposite  of  the  world 
of  the  arts,  where  commercial  and  scientific  prog- 
ress do  not  exist;  where  the  bone  of  Homer  and 
Mozart  and  Donatello  is  there,  always,  under  the 
mere  blush  of  fashion;  where  the  past — the  re- 
mote past,  even — is  responsible  for  the  way  that 
we  understand,  value,  and  act  in,  the  present. 
(When  one  reads  an  abstract  expressionist's  remark 
that  Washington  studios  are  "eighteen  months  be- 
hind" those  of  his  colleagues  in  New  York,  one  re- 
alizes something  of  the  terrible  power  of  business 
and  fashion  over  those  most  overtly  hostile  to 
them.)  An  artist's  work  and  life  presuppose  con- 
tinuing standards,  values  extended  over  centuries  or 
millenia,  a  future  that  is  the  continuation  and  modi- 
fication of  the  past,  not  its  contradiction  or  irrele- 
vant replacement.  He  is  working  for  the  time  that 
wants  the  best  that  he  can  do:  the  present,  he  hopes 
— but  if  not  that,  the  future.  If  he  sees  that  fewer 
and  fewer  people  are  any  real  audience  for  the  seri- 
ous artists  of  the  past,  he  will  feel  that  still  fewer 
are  going  to  be  an  audience  for  the  serious  artists 
of  the  present:  for  those  who,  willingly  or  un- 
willingly, sacrifice  extrinsic  values  to  intrinsic  ones, 

7  .  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

immediate  effectiveness  to  that  steady  attraction 
which,  the  artist  hopes,  true  excellence  will  always 

The  past's  relation  to  the  artist  or  man  of  culture 
is  almost  the  opposite  of  its  relation  to  the  rest  of 
our  society.  To  him  the  present  is  no  more  than  the 
last  ring  on  the  trunk,  understandable  and  valuable 
only  in  terms  of  all  the  earlier  rings.  The  rest  of 
our  society  sees  only  that  great  last  ring,  the  en- 
veloping surface  of  the  trunk;  what's  underneath  is 
a  disregarded,  almost  mythical  foundation.  When 
Northrop  Frye  writes  that  "the  preoccupation  of 
the  humanities  with  the  past  is  sometimes  made  a 
reproach  against  them  by  those  who  forget  that  we 
face  the  past:  it  may  be  shadowy,  but  it  is  all  that  is 
there,"  he  is  saying  what  for  the  artist  or  man  of 
culture  is  self-evidently  true.  Yet  for  the  Medium 
and  the  People  of  the  Medium  it  is  as  self-evidently 
false:  for  them  the  present— or  a  past  so  recent, 
so  quick-changing,  so  soon-disappearing,  that  it 
might  be  called  the  specious  present — is  all  that  is 

In  the  past  our  culture's  body  of  common  knowl- 
edge— its  frame  of  reference,  its  possibility  of  com- 
prehensible allusion — changed  slowly  and  superfi- 
cially; the  amount  added  to  it  or  taken  away  from 
it,  in  any  ten  years,  was  surprisingly  small.  Now  in 
any  ten  years  a  surprisingly  large  proportion  of  the 
whole  is  replaced.  Most  of  the  information  people 
have  in  common  is  something  that  four  or  five 
years  from  now  they  will  not  even  remember  hav- 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  y  * 

ing  known.  A  newspaper  story  remarks  in  astonish- 
ment that  television  quiz-programs  "have  proved 
that  ordinary  citizens  can  be  conversant  with  such 
esoterica  as  jazz,  opera,  the  Bible,  Shakespeare,  po- 
etry, and  fisticuffs."  You  may  exclaim:  "Esoterica! 
If  the  Bible  and  Shakespeare  are  esoterica,  what  is 
there  that's  common  knowledge?"  The  answer,  I 
suppose,  is  that  Elfrida  von  Nordroff  and  Teddy 
Nadler — the  ordinary  citizens  on  the  quiz-pro- 
grams— are  common  knowledge;  though  not  for 
long.  Songs  disappear  in  two  or  three  months,  ce- 
lebrities in  two  or  three  years;  most  of  the  Medium 
is  little  felt  and  soon  forgotten.  Nothing  is  as  dead 
as  day-before-yesterday's  newspaper,  the  next-to- 
the-last  number  on  the  roulette  wheel;  but  most  of 
the  knowledge  people  have  in  common  and  lose  in 
common  is  knowledge  of  such  newspapers,  such 
numbers.  Yet  the  novelist  or  poet  or  dramatist, 
when  he  moves  a  great  audience,  depends  upon  the 
deep  feelings,  the  living  knowledge,  that  the  people 
of  that  audience  share;  if  so  much  has  become  con- 
tingent, superficial,  ephemeral,  it  is  disastrous  for 

New  products  and  fashions  replace  the  old,  and 
the  fact  that  they  replace  them  is  proof  enough  of 
their  superiority.  Similarly,  the  Medium  does  not 
need  to  show  that  the  subjects  which  fill  it  are  in- 
teresting or  timely  or  important;  the  fact  that  they 
are  its  subjects  makes  them  so.  If  Time,  Life,  and 
the  television  shows  are  full  of  Tom  Fool  this 
month,  he's  no  fool.  And  when  he  has  been  gone 

7  £  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

from  them  a  while,  we  do  not  think  him  a  fool — 
we  do  not  think  of  him  at  all.  He  no  longer  exists, 
in  the  fullest  sense  of  the  word  exist:  to  be  is  to  be 
perceived,  to  be  a  part  of  the  Medium  of  our  per- 
ception. Our  celebrities  are  not  kings,  romantic  in 
exile,  but  Representatives  who,  defeated,  are  for- 
gotten; they  had,  always,  only  the  qualities  that 
we  delegated  to  them. 

After  driving  for  four  or  five  minutes  along  the 
road  outside  my  door,  I  come  to  a  row  of  one-room 
shacks  about  the  size  of  kitchens,  made  out  of  used 
boards,  metal  signs,  old  tin  roofs.  To  the  people 
who  live  in  them  an  electric  dishwasher  of  one's 
own  is  as  much  a  fantasy  as  an  ocean  liner  of  one's 
own.  But  since  the  Medium  (and  those  whose 
thought  is  molded  by  it)  does  not  perceive  them, 
these  people  are  themselves  a  fantasy.  No  matter 
how  many  millions  of  such  exceptions  to  the  gen- 
eral rule  there  are,  they  do  not  really  exist,  but  have 
a  kind  of  anomalous,  statistical  subsistence;  our 
moral  and  imaginative  view  of  the  world  is  no 
more  affected  by  them  than  by  the  occupants  of 
some  home  for  the  mentally  deficient  a  little  far- 
ther along  the  road.  If  some  night  one  of  these 
out-moded,  economically  deficient  ghosts  should 
scratch  at  my  window,  I  could  say  only:  "Come 
back  twenty  or  thirty  years  ago."  And  if  I  myself, 
as  an  old-fashioned,  one-room  poet,  a  friend  of 
"quiet  culture,"  a  "meek  lover  of  the  good,"  should 
go  out  some  night  to  scratch  at  another  window, 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  y  j 

shouldn't  I  hear  someone's  indifferent  or  regretful: 
"Come  back  a  century  or  two  ago"? 

When  those  whose  existence  the  Medium  recog- 
nizes ring  the  chimes  of  the  writer's  doorbell,  fall 
through  his  letter-slot,  float  out  onto  his  television- 
screen,  what  is  he  to  say  to  them?  A  man's  unsuc- 
cessful struggle  to  get  his  family  food  is  material 
for  a  work  of  art — for  tragedy,  almost;  his  unsuc- 
cessful struggle  to  get  his  family  a  stand-by  genera- 
tor is  material  for  what?  Comedy?  Farce?  Comedy 
on  such  a  scale,  at  such  a  level,  that  our  society  and 
its  standards  seem,  almost,  farce?  And  yet  it  is  the 
People  of  the  Medium — those  who  struggle  for  and 
get,  or  struggle  for  and  don't  get,  the  generator — 
whom  our  society  finds  representative:  they  are 
there,  there  primarily,  there  to  be  treated  first  of  all. 
How  shall  the  artist  treat  them?  And  the  Medium 
itself — an  end  of  life  and  a  means  of  life,  something 
essential  to  people's  understanding  and  valuing  of 
their  existence,  something  many  of  their  waking 
hours  are  spent  listening  to  or  looking  at — how  is 
it  to  be  treated  as  subject-matter  for  art?  The  artist 
cannot  merely  reproduce  it;  should  he  satirize  or 
parody  it?  But  by  the  time  the  artist's  work  reaches 
its  audience,  the  portion  of  the  Medium  which  it 
satirized  will  already  have  been  forgotten;  and 
parody  is  impossible,  often,  when  so  much  of  the 
Medium  is  already  an  unintentional  parody.  (Our 
age  might  be  defined  as  the  age  in  which  real 
parody  became  impossible,  since  any  parody  had  al- 

j  g  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

ready  been  duplicated,  or  parodied,  in  earnest.)  Yet 
the  Medium,  by  now,  is  an  essential  part  of  its 
watchers.  How  can  you  explain  those  whom  Mo- 
hammedans call  the  People  of  the  Book  in  any  terms 
that  omit  the  Book?  We  are  people  of  the  televi- 
sion-set, the  magazine,  the  radio,  and  are  inexplica- 
ble in  any  terms  that  omit  them. 

Oscar  Wilde  said  that  Nature  imitates  Art,  that 
before  Whistler  painted  them  there  were  no  fogs 
along  the  Thames.  If  his  statement  were  not  false, 
it  would  not  be  witty.  But  to  say  that  Nature  imi- 
tates Art,  when  the  Nature  is  human  nature  and  the 
Art  that  of  television,  radio,  motion-pictures,  maga- 
zines, is  literally  true.  The  Medium  shows  its  Peo- 
ple what  life  is,  what  people  are,  and  its  People  be- 
lieve it:  expect  people  to  be  that,  try  themselves  to 
be  that.  Seeing  is  believing;  and  if  what  you  see  in 
Life  is  different  from  what  you  see  in  life,  which 
of  the  two  are  you  to  believe?  For  many  people  it 
is  what  you  see  in  Life  (and  in  the  movies,  over 
television,  on  the  radio)  that  is  real  life;  and  every- 
day existence,  mere  local  or  personal  variation,  is 
not  real  in  the  same  sense. 

The  Medium  mediates  between  us  and  raw  re- 
ality, and  the  mediation  more  and  more  replaces 
reality  for  us.  Many  radio-stations  have  a  news- 
broadcast  every  hour,  and  many  people  like  and 
need  to  hear  it.  In  many  houses  either  the  television 
set  or  the  radio  is  turned  on  during  most  of  the 
hours  the  family  is  awake.  It  is  as  if  they  longed  to 
be  established  in  reality,  to  be  reminded  continually 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  j  g 

of  the  "real,"  "objective"  world — the  created 
world  of  the  Medium — rather  than  to  be  left  at 
the  mercy  of  actuality,  of  the  helpless  contingency 
of  the  world  in  which  the  radio-receiver  or  televi- 
sion set  is  sitting.  And  surely  we  can  sympathize: 
which  of  us  hasn't  found  a  similar  refuge  in  the 
"real,"  created  world  of  Cezanne  or  Goethe  or 
Verdi?  Yet  Dostoievsky's  world  is  too  different 
from  Wordsworth's,  Piero  della  Francesca's  from 
Goya's,  Bach's  from  Wolf's,  for  us  to  be  able  to 
substitute  one  homogeneous  mediated  reality  for 
everyday  reality  in  the  belief  that  it  is  everyday  re- 
ality. For  many  watchers,  listeners,  readers,  the 
world  of  events  and  celebrities  and  performers — 
the  Great  World — has  become  the  world  of  pri- 
mary reality:  how  many  times  they  have  sighed  at 
the  colorless  unreality  of  their  own  lives  and  fami- 
lies, and  sighed  for  the  bright  reality  of,  say,  Eliza- 
beth Taylor's.  The  watchers  call  the  celebrities  by 
their  first  names,  approve  or  disapprove  of  "who 
they're  dating,"  handle  them  with  a  mixture  of  love, 
identification,  envy,  and  contempt.  But  however 
they  handle  them,  they  handle  them:  the  Medium 
has  given  everyone  so  terrible  a  familiarity  with 
everyone  that  it  takes  great  magnanimity  of  spirit 
not  to  be  affected  by  it.  These  celebrities  are  not  he- 
roes to  us,  their  valets. 

Better  to  have  these  real  ones  play  themselves, 
and  not  sacrifice  too  much  of  their  reality  to  art; 
better  to  have  the  watcher  play  himself,  and  not 
lose  too  much  of  himself  in  art.  Usually  the  watcher 

g0  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

is  halfway  between  two  worlds,  paying  full  atten- 
tion to  neither:  half  distracted  from,  half  dis- 
tracted by,  this  distraction;  and  able  for  the  moment 
not  to  be  too  greatly  affected,  have  too  great  de- 
mands made  upon  him,  by  either  world.  For  in  the 
Medium,  which  we  escape  to  from  work,  nothing 
is  ever  work,  makes  intellectual  or  emotional  or 
imaginative  demands  which  we  might  find  it  diffi- 
cult to  satisfy.  Here  in  the  half -world  everything  is 
homogeneous — is,  as  much  as  possible,  the  same  as 
everything  else:  each  familiar  novelty,  novel  fa- 
miliarity has  the  same  treatment  on  top  and  the 
same  attitude  and  conclusion  at  bottom;  only  the 
middle,  the  particular  subject  of  the  particular  pro- 
gram or  article,  is  different.  If  it  is  different:  every- 
one is  given  the  same  automatic  "human  interest" 
treatment,  so  that  it  is  hard  for  us  to  remember,  un- 
necessary for  us  to  remember,  which  particular 
celebrity  we're  reading  about  this  time — often  it's 
the  same  one,  we've  just  moved  on  to  a  different 

Francesco  Caraccioli  said  that  the  English  have  a 
hundred  religions  and  one  sauce;  so  do  we;  and  we 
are  so  accustomed  to  this  sauce  or  dye  or  style  of 
presentation,  the  aesthetic  equivalent  of  Standard 
Brands,  that  a  very  simple  thing  can  seem  obscure 
or  perverse  without  it.  And,  too,  we  find  it  hard  to 
have  to  shift  from  one  genre  to  another,  to  vary 
our  attitudes  and  expectations,  to  use  our  unexer- 
cised imaginations.  Poetry  disappeared  long  ago, 
even  for  most  intellectuals;  each  year  fiction  is  a  lit- 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  8 1 

tie  less  important.  Our  age  is  the  age  of  articles: 
we  buy  articles  in  stores,  read  articles  in  magazines, 
exist  among  the  interstices  of  articles:  of  columns, 
interviews,  photographic  essays,  documentaries;  of 
facts  condensed  into  headlines  or  expanded  into 
non-fiction  best-sellers;  of  real  facts  about  real 

Art  lies  to  us  to  tell  us  the  (sometimes  disquiet- 
ing) truth.  The  Medium  tells  us  truths,  facts,  in 
order  to  make  us  believe  some  reassuring  or  enter- 
taining He  or  half-truth.  These  actually  existing 
celebrities,  of  universally  admitted  importance, 
about  whom  we  are  told  directly  authoritative  facts 

how  can  fictional  characters  compete  with  these? 

These  are  our  fictional  characters,  our  Lears  and 
Clytemnestras.  (This  is  ironically  appropriate,  since 
many  of  their  doings  and  sayings  are  fictional,  made 
up  by  public  relations  officers,  columnists,  agents, 
or  other  affable  familiar  ghosts.)  And  the  Medium 
gives  us  such  facts,  such  tape-recordings,  such 
clinical  reports  not  only  about  the  great  but  also 
about  (representative  samples  of)  the  small.  When 
we  have  been  shown  so  much  about  so  many — 
can  be  shown,  we  feel,  anything  about  anybody- 
does  fiction  seem  so  essential  as  it  once  seemed? 
Shakespeare  or  Tolstoy  can  show  us  all  about 
someone,  but  so  can  Life;  and  when  Life  does,  it's 
someone  real. 

The  Medium  is  half  life  and  half  art,  and  com- 
petes with  both  life  and  art.  It  spoils  its  audience 
for  both;  spoils  both  for  its  audience.  For  the  Peo- 

82  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

pie  of  the  Medium  life  isn't  sufficiently  a  matter 
of  success  and  glamor  and  celebrity,  isn't  entertain- 
ing enough,  distracting  enough,  mediated  enough; 
and  art  is  too  difficult  or  individual  or  novel,  too 
much  a  matter  of  tradition  and  the  past,  too  much  a 
matter  of  special  attitudes  and  aptitudes — its  media- 
tion sometimes  is  queer  or  excessive,  and  some- 
times is  not  even  recognizable  as  mediation.  The 
Medium's  mixture  of  rhetoric  and  reality,  in  which 
people  are  given  what  they  know  they  want  to  be 
given  in  the  form  in  which  they  know  they  want  to 
be  given  it,  is  something  more  efficient  and  irre- 
sistible than  any  real  art.  If  a  man  has  all  his  life 
been  fed  a  combination  of  marzipan  and  ethyl  al- 
cohol— if  eating,  to  him,  is  a  matter  of  being 
knocked  unconscious  by  an  ice  cream  soda — can 
he,  by  taking  thought,  come  to  prefer  a  diet  of 
bread  and  wine,  apples  and  well-water?  Will  a  man 
who  has  spent  his  life  watching  gladiatorial  games 
come  to  prefer  listening  to  chamber  music?  And 
those  who  produce  the  bread  and  the  wine  and  the 
quartets  for  him — won't  they  be  tempted  either  to 
give  up  producing  them,  or  else  to  produce  a  bread 
that's  half  sugar  and  half  alcohol,  a  quartet  that 
ends  with  the  cellist  at  the  violist's  bleeding  throat? 
Any  outsider  who  has  worked  for  the  Medium 
will  have  observed  that  the  one  thing  which  seems 
to  its  managers  most  unnatural  is  for  someone  to  do 
something  naturally,  to  speak  or  write  as  an  indi- 
vidual speaking  or  writing  to  other  individuals,  and 
not  as  a  sub-contractor  supplying  a  standardized 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  8  3 

product  to  the  Medium.  It  is  as  if  producers  and 
editors  and  supervisors — middle  men — were  parti- 
cles forming  a  screen  between  maker  and  public, 
one  which  will  let  through  only  particles  of  their 
own  size  and  weight  (or  as  they  say,  the  public's). 
As  you  look  into  their  strained  pureed  faces,  their 
big  horn-rimmed  eyes,  you  despair  of  Creation  it- 
self, which  seems  for  the  instant  made  in  their  own 
owl-eyed  image.  There  are  so  many  extrinsic  con- 
siderations involved  in  the  presentation  of  his  work, 
the  maker  finds,  that  by  the  time  it  is  presented  al- 
most any  intrinsic  consideration  has  come  to  seem 
secondary.  No  wonder  that  the  professional  who 
writes  the  ordinary  commercial  success — the  ordi- 
nary script,  scenario,  or  best  seller — resembles  im- 
aginative writers  less  than  he  resembles  editors, 
producers,  executives.  The  supplier  has  come  to 
resemble  those  he  supplies,  and  what  he  supplies 
them  resembles  both.  With  an  artist  you  never 
know  what  you  will  get;  with  him  you  know  what 
you  will  get.  He  is  a  reliable  source  for  a  standard 
product.  He  is  almost  exactly  the  opposite  of  the 
imaginative  artist:  instead  of  stubbornly  or  help- 
lessly sticking  to  what  he  sees  and  feels — to  what  is 
right  for  him,  true  to  his  reality,  regardless  of  what 
the  others  think  and  want — he  gives  the  others 
what  they  think  and  want,  regardless  of  what  he 
himself  sees  and  feels. 

The  Medium  represents,  to  the  artist,  all  that  he 
has  learned  not  to  do:  its  sure-fire  stereotypes  seem 
to  him  what  any  true  art,  true  spirit,  has  had  to 

o  .  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

struggle  past  on  its  way  to  the  truth.  The  artist  sees 
the  values  and  textures  of  this  art-substitute  replac- 
ing those  of  his  art,  so  far  as  most  of  society  is  con- 
cerned; conditioning  the  expectations  of  what  audi- 
ence his  art  has  kept.  Mass  culture  either  corrupts 
or  isolates  the  writer.  His  old  feeling  of  oneness 
— of  speaking  naturally  to  an  audience  with  es- 
sentially similar  standards — is  gone;  and  writers  no 
longer  have  much  of  the  consolatory  feeling  that 
took  its  place,  the  feeling  of  writing  for  the  happy 
few,  the  kindred  spirits  whose  standards  are  those 
of  the  future.  (Today  they  feel:  the  future,  should 
there  be  one,  will  be  worse.)  True  works  of  art  are 
more  and  more  produced  away  from  or  in  opposi- 
tion to  society.  And  yet  the  artist  needs  society  as 
much  as  society  needs  him:  as  our  cultural  enclaves 
get  smaller  and  drier,  more  hysterical  or  academic, 
one  mourns  for  the  artists  inside  and  the  public  out- 
side. An  incomparable  historian  of  mass  culture, 
Ernest  van  den  Haag,  has  expressed  this  with  la- 
conic force:  "The  artist  who,  by  refusing  to  work 
for  the  mass  market,  becomes  marginal,  cannot 
create  what  he  might  have  created  had  there  been 
no  mass  market.  One  may  prefer  a  monologue  to 
addressing  a  mass  meeting.  But  it  is  still  not  a  con- 

Even  if  the  rebellious  artist's  rebellion  is  whole- 
hearted, it  can  never  be  whole-stomach'd,  whole- 
unconscious'd.  Part  of  him  wants  to  be  like  his  kind, 
is  like  his  kind;  longs  to  be  loved  and  admired  and 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  g  r 

successful.  Our  society — and  the  artist,  in  so  far  as 
he  is  truly  a  part  of  it — has  no  place  set  aside  for 
the  different  and  poor  and  obscure,  the  fools  for 
Christ's  sake:  they  all  go  willy-nilly  into  Limbo. 
The  artist  is  tempted,  consciously,  to  give  his  so- 
ciety what  it  wants — or  if  he  won't  or  can't,  to 
give  it  nothing  at  all;  is  tempted,  unconsciously,  to 
give  it  superficially  independent  or  contradictory 
works  which  are  at  heart  works  of  the  Medium. 
But  it  is  hard  for  him  to  go  on  serving  both  God 
and  Mammon  when  God  is  so  really  ill-,  Mammon 
so  really  well-organized. 

''Shakespeare  wrote  for  the  Medium  of  his  day; 
if  Shakespeare  were  alive  now  he'd  be  writing  My 
Fair  Lady;  isn't  My  Fair  Lady,  then,  our  Hamlet? 
shouldn't  you  be  writing  Hamlet  instead  of  sitting 
there  worrying  about  your  superego?  I  need  my 
Hamlet!"  So  society  speaks  to  the  artist,  reasons 
with  the  artist;  and  after  he  has  written  it  its  Hamlet 
it  is  satisfied,  and  tries  to  make  sure  that  he  will 
never  do  it  again.  There  are  many  more  urgent 
needs  that  it  wants  him  to  satisfy:  to  lecture  to  it; 
to  be  interviewed;  to  appear  on  television  pro- 
grams; to  give  testimonials;  to  attend  book  lunch- 
eons; to  make  trips  abroad  for  the  State  Depart- 
ment; to  judge  books  for  Book  Clubs;  to  read  for 
publishers,  judge  for  publishers,  be  a  publisher  for 
publishers;  to  edit  magazines;  to  teach  writing  at 
colleges  or  conferences;  to  write  scenarios  or 
scripts  or  articles — articles  about  his  home  town 

o  *  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

for  Holiday,  about  cats  or  clothes  or  Christmas  for 
Vogue,  about  "How  I  Wrote  Hamlet"  for  any- 
thing; to — 

But  why  go  on?  I  once  heard  a  composer,  lectur- 
ing, say  to  a  poet,  lecturing:  "They'll  pay  us  to  do 
anything,  so  long  as  it  isn't  writing  music  or  writ- 
ing poems."  I  knew  the  reply  that  as  a  member  of 
my  society  I  should  have  made:  "As  long  as  they 
pay  you,  what  do  you  care?"  But  I  didn't  make  it: 
it  was  plain  that  they  cared  .  .  .  But  how  many 
more  learn  not  to  care,  to  love  what  they  once  en- 
dured! It  is  a  whole  so  comprehensive  that  any  al- 
ternative seems  impossible,  any  opposition  irrele- 
vant; in  the  end  a  man  says  in  a  small  voice:  "I 
accept  the  Medium."  The  Enemy  of  the  People 
winds  up  as  the  People — but  where  there  is  no  en- 
emy, the  people  perish. 

The  climate  of  our  culture  is  changing.  Under 
these  new  rains,  new  suns,  small  things  grow  great, 
and  what  was  great  grows  small;  whole  species  dis- 
appear and  are  replaced.  The  American  present  is 
very  different  from  the  American  past:  so  differ- 
ent that  our  awareness  of  the  extent  of  the  changes 
has  been  repressed,  and  we  regard  as  ordinary  what 
is  extraordinary — ominous  perhaps — both  for  us 
and  for  the  rest  of  the  world.  The  American  pres- 
ent is  many  other  peoples'  future:  our  cultural  and 
economic  example  is  to  much  of  the  world  mes- 
meric, and  it  is  only  its  weakness  and  poverty  that 
prevent  it  from  hurrying  with  us  into  the  Roman 
future.  But  at  this  moment  of  our  power  and  sue- 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  8  y 

cess,  our  thought  and  art  are  full  of  a  troubled 
sadness,  of  the  conviction  of  our  own  decline.  When 
the  President  of  Yale  University  writes  that  "the 
ideal  of  the  good  life  has  faded  from  the  educational 
process,  leaving  only  miscellaneous  prospects  of 
jobs  and  joyless  hedonism,"  are  we  likely  to  find  it 
unfaded  among  our  entertainers  and  executives?  Is 
the  influence  of  what  I  have  called  the  Medium 
likely  to  lead  us  to  any  good  life?  to  make  us  love 
and  try  to  attain  any  real  excellence,  beauty,  mag- 
nanimity? or  to  make  us  understand  these  as  obliga- 
tory but  transparent  rationalizations  behind  which 
the  realities  of  money  and  power  are  waiting? 

The  tourist  Matthew  Arnold  once  spoke  about 
our  green  culture  in  terms  that  have  an  altered 
relevance — but  are  not  yet  irrelevant — to  our  ripe 
one.  He  said:  "What  really  dissatisfies  in  American 
civilization  is  the  want  of  the  interesting,  a  want 
due  chiefly  to  the  want  of  those  two  great  ele- 
ments of  the  interesting,  which  are  elevation  and 
beauty."  This  use  of  interesting — and,  perhaps, 
this  tone  of  a  curator  pointing  out  what  is  plain  and 
culpable — shows  how  far  along  in  the  decline  of 
West  Arnold  came:  it  is  only  in  the  latter  days 
that  we  ask  to  be  interested.  He  had  found  the 
word,  he  tells  us,  in  Carlyle.  Carlyle  is  writing  to  a 
friend  to  persuade  him  not  to  emigrate  to  the  United 
States;  he  asks:  "Could  you  banish  yourself  from  all 
that  is  interesting  to  your  mind,  forget  the  history, 
the  glorious  institutions,  the  noble  principles  of  old 
Scotland — that  you  might  eat  a  better  dinner,  per- 

o  g  A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket 

haps?"  We  smile,  and  feel  like  reminding  Carlyle  of 
the  history,  the  glorious  institutions,  the  noble 
principles  of  new  America — of  that  New  World 
which  is,  after  all,  the  heir  of  the  Old. 

And  yet  .  .  .  Can  we  smile  as  comfortably,  to- 
day, as  we  could  have  smiled  yesterday?  Nor 
could  we  listen  as  unconcernedly,  if  on  taking  leave 
of  us  some  other  tourist  should  conclude,  with  the 
penetration  and  obtuseness  of  his  kind: 

"I  remember  reading  somewhere:  that  which  you 
inherit  from  your  fathers  you  must  earn  in  order 
to  possess.  I  have  been  so  much  impressed  with 
your  power  and  your  possessions  that  I  have  neg- 
lected, perhaps,  your  principles.  The  elevation  or 
beauty  of  your  spirit  did  not  equal,  always,  that  of 
your  mountains  and  skyscrapers:  it  seems  to  me  that 
your  society  provides  you  with  'all  that  is  interest- 
ing to  the  mind'  only  exceptionally,  at  odd  hours,  in 
little  reservations  like  those  of  your  Indians.  But 
as  for  your  dinners,  I've  never  seen  anything  like 
them:  your  daily  bread  comes  flambe.  And  yet — 
wouldn't  you  say — the  more  dinners  a  man  eats,  the 
more  comforts  he  possesses,  the  hungrier  and  more 
uncomfortable  some  part  of  him  becomes:  inside 
every  fat  man  there  is  a  man  who  is  starving.  Part 
of  you  is  being  starved  to  death,  and  the  rest  of 
you  is  being  stuffed  to  death.  But  this  will  change: 
no  one  goes  on  being  stuffed  to  death  or  starved  to 
death  forever. 

"This  is  a  gloomy,  an  equivocal  conclusion?  Oh 
yes,  I  come  from  an  older  culture,  where  things  are 

A  Sad  Heart  at  the  Supermarket  g  q 

accustomed  to  coming  to  such  conclusions;  where 
there  is  no  last-paragraph  fairy  to  bring  one,  al- 
ways, a  happy  ending — or  that  happiest  of  all  end- 
ings, no  ending  at  all.  And  have  I  no  advice  to  give 
you  as  I  go?  None.  You  are  too  successful  to  need 
advice,  or  to  be  able  to  take  it  if  it  were  offered; 
but  if  ever  you  should  fail,  it  is  there  waiting  for 
you,  the  advice  or  consolation  of  all  the  other  fail- 


Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers 

People  often  ask  me:  "Is  there  any  poet  who 
makes  his  living  writing  poetry?"  and  I  have  to 
say:  "No."  The  public  has  an  unusual  relationship 
to  the  poet:  it  doesn't  even  know  that  he  is  there. 
Our  public  is  a  rich  and  generous  one;  if  it  knew 
that  the  poet  was  there,  it  would  pay  him  for  being 
there.  As  it  is,  poets  make  their  living  in  many  ways: 
by  being  obstetricians,  like  William  Carlos  Wil- 
liams; or  directors  of  Faber  and  Faber,  like  T.  S. 
Eliot;  or  vice-presidents  of  the  Hartford  Accident 
and  Indemnity  Company,  like  Wallace  Stevens.  But 
most  poets,  nowadays,  make  their  living  by  teach- 
ing. Kepler  said,  "God  gives  every  animal  a  way  to 
make  its  living,  and  He  has  given  the  astronomer 
astrology";  and  now,  after  so  many  centuries,  He 
has  given  us  poets  students.  But  what  He  gives 
with  one  hand  He  takes  away  with  the  other:  He 
has  taken  away  our  readers. 

Yet  the  poet  can't  help  looking  at  what  he  has 
left,  his  students,  with  gratitude.  His  job  may  be 
an    impossible    one— there    are    three    impossible 


Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers  g  j 

tasks,  said  Freud:  to  teach,  to  govern,  and  to  cure 
— but  what  is  there  so  grateful  as  impossibility?  and 
what  is  there  better  to  teach,  more  nearly  impossi- 
ble to  teach,  than  poems  and  stories?  As  Lord  Ma- 
caulay  says:  "For  how  can  man  live  better/  Than 
facing  fearful  odds/  For  the  poems  of  his  fa- 

I  seem  to  have  remembered  it  a  little  wrong,  but 
it's  a  natural  error.  And,  today,  when  we  get  peo- 
ple to  read  poems — to  read  very  much  of  anything 
— naturally  and  joyfully,  to  read  it  not  as  an  un- 
natural Tightness  but  as  a  natural  error:  what  peo- 
ple always  have  done,  always  will  do — we  do  it 
against  fearful  odds.  I  can't  imagine  a  better  way  for 
the  poet  to  make  his  living.  I  certainly  can't  imagine 
his  making  his  living  by  writing  poems — I'm  not 
that  imaginative.  I'm  used  to  things  as  they  are. 

But  there  is  a  passage  in  Wordsworth  that  I  read, 
always,  with  a  rueful  smile.  He  is  answering  the 
question,  Why  write  in  verse?  He  gives  several  rea- 
sons. His  final  reason,  he  writes,  "is  all  that  is  nec- 
essary to  say  upon  this  subject."  Here  it  is,  all  that 
it  is  necessary  to  say  upon  this  subject:  "Few  per- 
sons will  deny,  that  of  two  descriptions,  either  of 
passions,  manners,  or  characters,  each  of  them 
equally  well  executed,  the  one  in  prose  and  the 
other  in  verse,  the  verse  will  be  read  a  hundred 
times  where  the  prose  is  read  once." 

One  sees  sometimes,  carved  on  geology  build- 
ings: O  Earth,  what  changes  thou  hast  seen!  When 
a  poet  finishes  reading  this  passage  from  Words- 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers 

worth,  ,he  thinks  in  miserable  awe:  O  Earth,  what 
changes  thou  hast  seen!  Only  a  hundred  and  fifty 
years  ago  this  is  what  people  were  like.  Nowadays, 
of  course,  the  prose  will  be  read  a  thousand  times 
where  the  verse  is  read  once.  And  this  seems  to 
everybody  only  natural;  the  situation  Wordsworth 
describes  seems  unnatural,  improbable,  almost  im- 
possible. What  Douglas  Bush  writes  is  true:  we  live 
in  "a  time  in  which  most  people  assume  that,  as  an 
eminent  social  scientist  once  said  to  me,  'Poetry 
is  on  the  way  out.'  "  To  most  of  us  verse,  any  verse, 
is  so  uncongenial,  so  exhaustively  artificial,  that  I 
have  often  thought  that  a  man  could  make  his  for- 
tune by  entirely  eliminating  from  our  culture  verse 
of  any  kind:  in  the  end  there  would  be  no  more 
poems,  only  prose  translations  of  them.  This  man 
could  begin  by  publishing  his  Revised  Standard 
Version  of  Mother  Goose:  without  rhyme,  meter, 
or  other  harmful  adulterants;  with  no  word  of 
anything  but  honest  American  prose,  prose  that  cats 
and  dogs  can  read. 

A  friend  of  mine  once  took  a  famous  Italian 
scholar  on  a  tour  of  New  Haven.  She  specialized  in 
objects  of  art  and  virtue— samplers,  figureheads, 
paintings  of  women  under  willows,  statues  of  Gen- 
eral Washington — but  no  matter  what  she  showed 
him,  the  man  would  only  wave  his  hand  in  the  air 
and  exclaim:  Ridickalus!  And  shouldn't  we  feel  so 
about  things  like  Mother  Goose? 

Early  to  bed  and  early  to  rise 

Makes  a  man  healthy,  wealthy,  and  wise. 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers  Q  ^ 

Ridickalus!  Why  say  it  like  a  rocking  horse?  why 
make  it  jingle  so?  and  wise — who  wants  to  be  wise? 

Which  sibling  is  the  well-adjusted  sibling? 
The  one  that  gets  its  sleep. 

That  is  the  way  the  modern  Mother  Goose  will  put 
it.  I  don't  expect  the  modern  Mother  Goose  to  be 
especially  popular  with  little  children,  who  have 
not  yet  learned  not  to  like  poetry;  but  it  is  the  par- 
ents who  buy  the  book. 

Isn't  writing  verse  a  dying  art,  anyway,  like 
blacksmithing  or  buggymaking?  Well,  not  exactly: 
poets  are  making  as  many  buggies  as  ever — good 
buggies,  fine  buggies — they  just  can't  get  anybody 
much  to  ride  in  them.  As  for  blacksmithing:  I  read 
the  other  day  that  there  are  twice  as  many  black- 
smith shops  in  the  United  States  as  there  are  book- 
stores. Something  has  gone  wrong  with  that  com- 
parison too.  No,  I'm  doing  what  poets  do, 
complaining;  and  if  I  exaggerate  a  little  when  I 
complain,  why,  that's  only  human — surely  you 
want  me  to  exaggerate  a  little,  in  my  misery. 
Goethe  says,  when  he  is  talking  about  slum  chil- 
dren: "No  person  ever  looks  miserable  who  feels 
that  he  has  the  right  to  make  a  demand  on  you." 
This  right  is  not  anything  that  anyone  can  confer 
upon  himself;  it  is  the  public,  society,  all  of  us,  that 
confer  this  right.  If  the  poet  looks  miserable,  it  is  be- 
cause we  have  made  him  feel  that  he  no  longer  has 
the  right  to  make  a  demand  on  us.  It  is  no  longer  a 
question  of  what  he  wants,  or  of  what  he  ought  to 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers 

be  given — he  takes  what  he  gets,  and  complains 
about  getting  it,  and  he  hears  the  echo  of  his  com- 
plaint, and  then  the  silence  settles  around  him,  a  lit- 
tle darker,  a  little  deeper. 

What  does  he  want?  To  be  read.  Read  by  whom? 
critics?  men  wise  enough  to  tell  him,  when  they 
have  read  the  poem,  what  it  is  and  ought  to  be,  what 
its  readers  feel  and  ought  to  feel?  Well,  no.  A 
writer  cannot  learn  about  his  readers  from  his  crit- 
ics: they  are  different  races.  The  critic,  unless  he  is 
one  in  a  thousand,  reads  to  criticize;  the  reader  reads 
to  read. 

Freud  talks  of  the  "free-floating"  or  "evenly- 
hovering"  attention  with  which  the  analyst  must 
listen  to  the  patient.  Concentration,  note-taking,  lis- 
tening with  a  set — a  set  of  pigeonholes — makes  it 
difficult  or  impossible  for  the  analyst's  unconscious 
to  respond  to  the  patient's;  takes  away  from  the 
analyst  the  possibility  of  learning  from  the  patient 
what  the  analyst  doesn't  already  know;  takes  away 
from  him  all  those  random  guesses  or  intuitions  or 
inspirations   which    come    out   of   nowhere — and 
come,  too,  out  of  the  truth  of  the  patient's  being. 
But  this  is  quite  as  true  of  critics  and  the  poems 
that  are  their  patients:  when  one  reads  as  a  linguist, 
a  scholar,  a  New  or  Old  or  High  or  Low  critic, 
when  one  reads  the  poem  as  a  means  to  an  end,  one 
is  no  longer  a  pure  reader  but  an  applied  one.  The 
true   reader   "listens   like   a   three   years'    child:/ 
The  Mariner  hath  his  will."  Later  on  he  may  write 
like  a  sixty-three-year-old  sage,  but  he  knows  that 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers  gr 

in  the  beginning,  unless  ye  be  converted,  and  be- 
come as  little  children,  ye  shall  not  enter  into  the 
kingdom  of  art.  Hofmannsthal  says,  with  awful  fi- 
nality: "The  world  has  lost  its  innocence,  and  with- 
out innocence  no  one  creates  or  enjoys  a  work  of 
art";  but  elsewhere  he  says  more  hopefully,  with 
entire  and  not  with  partial  truth,  that  each  of  us 
lives  in  an  innocence  of  his  own  which  he  never  en- 
tirely loses. 

Is  there  a  public  for  poetry  that  is  still,  in  this 
sense  of  the  word,  innocent?  Of  course,  there  are 
several  publics  for  poetry — small,  benighted,  eccen- 
tric publics — just  as  there  are  publics  for  postage 
stamps  and  cobblers'  benches;  but  this  is  such  a  dis- 
astrous change  from  the  days  of  Childe  Harold 
and  In  Memoriam  and  Hiawatha,  when  the  public 
for  poetry  was,  simply,  the  reading  public,  that  you 
can  see  why  poets  feel  the  miserable  astonishment 
that  they  feel.  The  better-known  poets  feel  it  more 
than  the  lesser-known,  who — poor  things — lie  un- 
der the  table  grateful  for  crumbs,  pats,  kicks,  any- 
thing at  all  that  will  let  them  be  sure  they  really 
exist,  and  are  not  just  a  dream  someone  has  stopped 
dreaming.  A  poet  like  Auden  says  that  nobody 
reads  him  except  poets  and  young  men  in  cafeterias 
— his  description  of  the  young  men  is  too  repellent 
for  me  to  repeat  it  to  you. 

Literally,  Auden  is  wrong:  we  read  Auden,  this 
is  no  cafeteria;  but,  figuratively,  Auden  is  right — 
the  poet's  public's  gone.  Frederick  the  Great  trans- 
lated Voltaire,  and  trembled  as  the  poet  read  the 

q£  Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers 

translation;  Elizabeth — Elizabeth  the  First — and 
Henry  the  Eighth  and  Richard  the  Lion-hearted 
wrote  good  poems  and  read  better;  and  I  cannot 
resist  quoting  to  you  three  or  four  sentences  from 
Frans  Bengtsson's  novel  The  Long  Ships,  to  show 
you  what  things  were  like  at  the  court  of  Harald 
Bluetooth,  King  of  Denmark  in  the  year  iooo.  A 
man  gets  up  from  a  banquet  table:  "His  name  was 
Bjorn  Asbrandsson,  and  he  was  a  famous  warrior, 
besides  being  a  great  poet  to  boot.  .  .  .  Although 
he  was  somewhat  drunk,  he  managed  to  improvise 
some  highly  skilful  verses  in  King  Harald's  honor 
in  a  meter  known  as  toglag.  This  was  the  latest  and 
most  difficult  verse-form  that  the  Icelandic  poets 
had  invented,  and  indeed  the  poem  was  so  artfully 
contrived  that  little  could  be  understood  of  its  con- 
tent. Everybody,  however,  listened  with  an  ap- 
pearance of  understanding,  for  any  man  who  could 
not  understand  poetry  would  be  regarded  as  a  poor 
specimen  of  a  warrior;  and  King  Harald  praised 
the  poet  and  gave  him  a  gold  ring." 

Auden  is  a  descendant  of  just  such  poets  as  this 
one;  but  if  Auden,  when  he  next  visits  the  Univer- 
sity of  your  state,  makes  up  an  incomprehensible 
poem,  in  a  difficult  new  meter,  in  honor  of  the 
President  of  the  University,  will  all  its  football 
players  pretend  they  understand  the  poem,  so  as 
not  to  be  thought  poor  specimens  of  football  play- 
ers? and  will  the  President  give  Auden  a  gold 

In  the  days  when  his  readers  couldn't  read,  the 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers  qj 

poet  judged  his  public  by  his  public:  the  gold  ring 
or  the  scowl  the  king  gave  him  was  as  concrete  as 
the  labored,  triumphant  faces  of  his  hearers.  But 
nowadays  King  Harald  and  his  warriors  are  repre- 
sented by  a  reviewer,  next  year,  in  the  New  York 
Times;  a  critic,  nine  years  later,  in  the  Sewanee  Re- 
view. "Ah,  better  to  sing  my  songs  to  a  wolf  pack 
on  the  Seeonee  than  to  a  professor  on  the  Se- 
wanee!"  the  poet  blurts,  baring  his  teeth;  but  then — 
what  choice  has  he? — he  lets  the  Reality  Principle 
do  its  worst,  and  projects  or  extends  or  extrapolates 
a  critic  or  two,  a  dozen  reviewers,  into  the  Public; 
into  Posterity.  Critics,  alas!  are  the  medium  through 
which  the  poet  darkly  senses  his  public.  Nor  is  it 
altogether  different  for  the  public:  Harald  and  his 
vikings,  lonely  in  their  split-levels,  do  not  even  re- 
member the  days  when,  as  they  listened,  they 
could  look  into  one  another's  faces  and  know  with- 
out looking  what  they  would  find  there.  Now  they 
too  look  into  the  Times;  wish  that  they  could  re- 
place that  scowl  with  a  gold  ring,  that  gold  ring 
with  a  scowl;  reconstruct  from  the  exclamations  on 
dust  jackets,  quotations  in  advertisements,  the  fierce 
smiles  on  the  faces  of  the  warriors. 

So  if  we  are  to  talk  about  the  poet  and  his  poems 
and  his  public,  what  each  is  to  the  others,  we  must 
spend  much  of  our  time — too  much  of  our  time — 
talking  about  his  critics.  Criticism  is  necessary,  I  sup- 
pose; I  know.  Yet  criticism,  to  the  poet,  is  no  neces- 
sity, but  a  luxury  he  can  ill  afford.  Conrad  cried  to 
his  wife:  "I  don't  want  criticism,  I  want  praise!" 

Qo  Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers 

And  it  is  praise,  blame,  tears,  laughter,  that  writers 
want;  when  Columbus  comes  home  he  needs  to  be 
cheered  for  finding  a  new  way  to  India,  not  in- 
terned while  the  officials  argue  about  whether  it  is 
Asia,  Africa,  or  Antarctica  that  he  has  discovered. 
Really,  of  course,  it's  America — and  if  they  agreed 
about  it  this  would  be  helpful  to  Columbus;  he 
could  say  to  himself,  in  awe:  "So  it  was  America  I 
discovered!"  But  how  seldom  the  critics  do  agree! 
A  gray  writer  seems  black  to  his  white  critics, 
white  to  his  black  critics:  the  same  poem  will  seem 
incomprehensible  modernistic  nonsense  to  Robert 
Hillyer,  and  a  sober,  old-fashioned,  versified  essay 
to  the  critics  of  some  little  magazine  of  advanced 
tastes.  Ordinary  human  feeling,  the  most  natural 
tenderness,  will  seem  to  many  critics  and  readers 
rank  sentimentality,  just  as  a  kind  of  nauseated  bru- 
tality (in  which  the  writer's  main  response  to  the 
world  is  simply  to  vomit)  will  seem  to  many  critics 
and  readers  the  inescapable  truth.  We  live  in  a  time 
in  which  Hofmannsthal's  "Good  taste  is  the  ability 
continuously  to  counteract  exaggeration"  will  seem 
to  most  readers  as  false  as  it  seems  tame.  "Each 
epoch  has  its  own  sentimentality,"  Hofmannsthal 
goes  on,  "its  specific  way  of  overemphasizing  strata 
of  emotion.  The  sentimentality  of  the  present  is 
egotistic  and  unloving;  it  exaggerates  not  the  feel- 
ing of  love  but  that  of  the  self." 

Everyone  speaks  of  the  "negative  capability"  of 
the  artist,  of  his  ability  to  lose  what  self  he  has  in 
the  many  selves,  the  great  self  of  the  world.  Such 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers  90, 

a  quality  is,  surely,  the  first  that  a  critic  should  have; 
yet  who  speaks  of  the  negative  capability  of  the 
critic?  how  often  are  we  able  to  observe  it?  The 
commonest  response  to  the  self  of  a  work  of  art  is 
the  critic's  assertion  that  he  too  has  a  self.  What  he 
writes  proves  it.  I  once  saw,  in  an  essay  by  a  psy- 
choanalyst, the  phrase  the  artist  and  his  competitor, 
the  critic.  Where  got  he  that  truth?  Out  of  an 
analysand's  mouth?  I  do  not  know;  but  that  it  is  an 
important  and  neglected  truth  I  do  know.  All  me- 
diators become  competitors:  the  exceptions  to  this 
rule  redeem  their  kind. 

Critics  disagree  about  almost  every  quality  of  a 
writer's  work;  and  when  some  agree  about  a  qual- 
ity, they  disagree  about  whether  it  is  to  be  praised 
or  blamed,  nurtured  or  rooted  out.  After  enough 
criticism  the  writer  is  covered  with  lipstick  and 
bruises,  and  the  two  are  surprisingly  evenly  dis- 
tributed. There  is  nothing  so  plain  about  a  writer's 
books,  to  some  critics,  that  its  opposite  isn't  plain 
to  others.  Kafka  is  original?  Not  at  all,  according 
to  Edmund  Wilson.  A  fine  critic  of  poetry,  Ezra 
Pound,  writes:  "In  [the  writer  So-and-So]  you 
have  an  embroidery  of  language,  a  talk  about  the 
matter,  not  presentation;  you  have  grace,  richness 
of  language,  etc.,  as  much  as  you  like,  but  you  have 
nothing  that  isn't  replaceable  by  something  else,  no 
ornament  that  wouldn't  have  done  just  as  well  in 
some  other  connection,  or  that  for  which  some 
other  figure  of  rhetoric  or  fancy  couldn't  have 
served,  or  which  couldn't  have  been  distilled  from 

j  00  Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers 

literary  antecedents."  About  whom  is  Pound  speak- 
ing? About  Shakespeare.  Anyone  who  has  read  at 
all  widely  has  come  across  thousands  of  such  judg- 
ments, and  it  is  easy  for  him  to  sympathize  with 
the  artist  when  the  artist  murmurs:  "We  wish  to 
learn  from  our  critics,  but  it  is  hard  for  us  even  to 
recover  from  them.  A  fool's  reproach  has  an  edge 
like  a  razor,  and  his  brother's  praise  is  small  con- 
solation. Critics  are  like  bees:  one  sting  lasts  longer 
than  a  dozen  jars  of  honey." 

The  best  thing  ever  said  about  criticism — I  am 
not,  now,  speaking  as  a  critic — was  said,  as  is  often 
the  case,  by  Goethe:  "Against  criticism  we  can  nei- 
ther protect  nor  defend  ourselves;  we  must  act  in 
despite  of  it,  and  gradually  it  resigns  itself  to  this." 
The  great  Goethe  suffered  just  as  we  little  creatures 
do,  and  he  spoke  about  it,  as  we  don't,  in  imperisha- 
ble sentences:  "All  great  excellence  in  life  or  art,  at 
its  first  recognition,  brings  with  it  a  certain  pain 
arising  from  the  strongly  felt  inferiority  of  the 
spectator;  only  at  a  later  period,  when  we  take  it 
into  our  own  culture,  and  appropriate  as  much  of  it 
as  our  capacities  allow,  do  we  learn  to  love  and  es- 
teem it.  Mediocrity,  on  the  other  hand,  may  often 
give  us  unqualified  pleasure;  it  does  not  disturb  our 
self-satisfaction,  but  rather  encourages  us  with  the 
thought  that  we  are  as  good  as  another.  .  .  .  Prop- 
erly speaking,  we  learn  only  from  those  books  we 
cannot  judge.  The  author  of  a  book  that  I  am  com- 
petent to  criticize  would  have  to  learn  from  me." 
Goethe  says  over  and  over:  "Nothing  is  more  ter- 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers  I O I 

rible  than  ignorance  in  action.  ...  It  is  a  terrible 
thing  when  fools  thrive  at  the  expense  of  a  superior 
man."  You  and  I  will  agree — and  then  we  will  have 
to  decide  whether  we're  being  thriven  at  the  ex- 
pense of,  or  thriving.  Goethe  says  in  firm  doggerel: 
"However  clear  and  simple  be  it/  Finder  and  doer 
alone  may  see  it."  No,  Goethe  didn't  have  too  much 
use  for  critics,  since  he  thought  that  critics  weren't 
of  too  much  use. 

And  why  am  I  quoting  all  this  to  you?  have 
critics  hurt  me  so  that  I  want  to  pull  down  the  tem- 
ple upon  their  heads,  even  if  I  too  perish  in  the 
ruins? — for  I  too  am  a  critic.  No,  it's  not  that;  crit- 
ics have  done  their  best  for  me,  and  their  best  has 
been,  perhaps,  only  too  good;  when  I  myself  criti- 
cize, I  am  willing  for  you  to  believe  what  I  say; 
but  I  am  trying  to  explain  why  it  is  that  critics  are 
of  so  little  use  to  writers,  why  it  is  that  they  are 
such  a  poor  guide  to  the  opinions  of  the  next  age — 
and  I  am  explaining  in  an  age  which  has  an  un- 
precedented respect  for,  trust  in,  criticism. 

All  of  us  have  read  pieces  of  criticism — many 
pieces  of  criticism — which  seem  worthy  both  of  de- 
lighted respect  and  cautious  trust.  All  of  us  have 
read  criticism  in  which  the  critic  takes  it  for  granted 
that  what  he  writes  about  comes  first,  and  what  he 
writes  comes  second — takes  it  for  granted  that  he 
is  writing  as  a  reader  to  other  readers,  to  be  of  use 
to  them;  criticism  in  which  the  critic  works,  as  far 
as  he  is  able,  in  the  spirit  of  Wordsworth's  "I  have 
endeavored  to  look  steadily  at  my  subject."  All  of 

j  q  2  Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers 

us  have  some  favorite,  exceptional  critic  who 
might  say,  with  substantial  truth,  that  he  has  not  set 
up  rigid  standards  to  which  a  true  work  of  art  must 
conform,  but  that  he  has  tried  instead  to  let  the 
many  true  works  of  art — his  experience  of  them — 
set  up  the  general  expectations  to  which  his  criti- 
cism of  art  conforms;  that  he  has  tried  never  to  see 
a  work  of  art  as  mere  raw  material  for  criticism, 
data  for  generalization;  that  he  has  tried  never  to 
forget  the  difference  between  creating  a  work  of 
art  and  criticising  a  work  of  art;  and  that  he  has 
tried,  always,  to  remember  what  Proust  meant 
when  he  said,  about  writers  like  Stendhal,  Balzac, 
Hugo,  Flaubert,  the  great  creators  called  "ro- 
mantics": "The  classics  have  no  better  commenta- 
tors than  the  'romantics.'  The  romantics  are  the 
only  people  who  really  know  how  to  read  the 
classics,  because  they  read  them  as  they  were  writ- 
ten, that  is  to  say,  'romantically'  and  because  if  one 
would  read  a  poet  or  a  prose  writer  properly  one 
must  be,  not  a  scholar,  but  a  poet  or  a  prose  writer." 
It  might  be  put  a  little  differently:  if  one  would 
read  a  poet  or  a  prose  writer  properly  one  must  be, 
not  a  scholar  or  a  poet  or  a  prose  writer,  but  a 
reader:  someone  who  reads  books  as  they  were 
written,  that  is  to  say,  "romantically."  Proust's 
grandmother  was  not  a  poet  or  a  prose  writer,  but 
she  read  Madame  de  Sevigne  properly.  To  be,  as  she 
was,  a  reader,  is  a  lofty  and  no  longer  common 

The  best  poetry  critic  of  our  time,  T.  S.  Eliot, 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers  j  q  -> 

has  said  about  his  criticism:  "I  see  that  I  wrote  best 
about  poets  whose  work  had  influenced  my  own, 
and  with  whose  poetry  I  had  become  thoroughly 
familiar,  long  before  I  desired  to  write  about  them, 
or  had  found  the  occasion  to  do  so.  .  .  .  The  best 
of  my  literary  criticism  ...  is  a  by-product  of  my 
private  poetry-workshop."  But  perhaps  something 
of  this  sort  is  always  true:  perhaps  true  criticism  is 
something,  like  sincerity  or  magnanimity,  that  can- 
not be  aimed  at,  attained,  directly;  that  must  always 
be,  in  some  sense,  a  by-product,  whether  of  writing 
or  reading,  of  a  private  poetry-workshop  or  a  pri- 
vate reading-room. 

We  all  realize  that  writers  are  inspired,  but  help- 
less and  fallible  beings,  who  know  not  what  they 
write;  readers,  we  know  from  personal  experience, 
are  less  inspired  but  no  less  helpless  and  fallible 
beings,  who  half  the  time  don't  know  what  they're 
reading.  Now,  a  critic  is  half  writer,  half  reader: 
just  as  the  vices  of  men  and  horses  met  in  centaurs, 
the  weaknesses  of  readers  and  writers  meet  in 
critics.  A  good  critic — we  cannot  help  seeing,  when 
we  look  back  at  any  other  age — is  a  much  rarer 
thing  than  a  good  poet  or  a  good  novelist.  Unless 
you  are  one  critic  in  a  hundred  thousand,  the  future 
will  quote  you  only  as  an  example  of  the  normal 
error  of  the  past,  what  everybody  was  foolish 
enough  to  believe  then.  Critics  are  discarded  like 
calendars;  yet,  for  their  year,  with  what  trust  the 
world  regards  them! 

Art  is  long,  and  critics  are  the  insects  of  a  day. 

.  0  .  Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers 

But  while  he  survives,  it  is  the  work  of  art  he  criti- 
cizes which  is  the  critic's  muse,  or  daemon,  or 
guardian  angel:  it  is  a  delight  to  the  critic  to  think 
that  sometimes,  in  moments  of  particular  good 
fortune,  some  poem  by  Rilke  or  Yeats  or  Words- 
worth has  hovered  above  him,  whispering  what  to 
say  about  it  in  his  ear.  And,  in  the  moments  of  rash 
ambition  which  can  come  even  to  such  humble — 
rightly  humble — things  as  critics,  the  critic  can  im- 
agine some  reader,  in  the  midst  of  his  pleasure  at  a 
poem  or  story  the  critic  has  guided  him  to,  being 
willing  to  think  of  some  paragraph  of  the  critic's 
work  in  terms  of  a  sentence  of  Goethe's:  "There  is 
a  sensitive  empiricism  that  ultimately  identifies  itself 
with  the  object  and  thereby  becomes  genuine 

In  other  moments  the  critic  can  imagine  the  read- 
er's thinking  of  him  in  terms  of  a  paragraph  that 
Proust  once  wrote.  That  miraculous  writer  and 
great  critic,  distressed  at  someone's  having  referred 
to  Sainte-Beuve  as  one  of  the  "great  guides,"  ex- 
claimed: "Surely  no  one  ever  failed  so  completely 
as  did  he  in  performing  the  functions  of  a  guide? 
The  greater  part  of  his  Lundis  are  devoted  to 
fourth-rate  writers,  and  whenever,  by  chance,  he 
does  bring  himself  to  speak  of  somebody  really  im- 
portant, of  Flaubert,  for  instance,  or  Baudelaire,  he 
immediately  atones  for  what  grudging  praise  he 
may  have  accorded  him  by  letting  it  be  understood 
that  he  writes  as  he  does  about  them  simply  be- 
cause he  wants  to  please  men  who  are  his  personal 

Foe ts,  Critics,  and  Readers  I O  r 

friends.  ...  As  to  Stendhal,  the  novelist,  the 
Stendhal  of  'La  Chartreuse,'  our  'guide'  laughs  out 
of  court  the  idea  that  such  a  person  ever  existed, 
and  merely  sees  in  all  the  talk  about  him  the  disas- 
trous effects  of  an  attempt  (foredoomed  to  failure) 
to  foist  Stendhal  on  the  public  as  a  novelist.  ...  It 
would  be  fun,  had  I  not  less  important  things  to 
do,  to  'brush  in'  (as  Monsieur  Cuvillier  Fleury 
would  have  said),  in  the  manner  of  Sainte-Beuve,  a 
'picture  of  French  literature  in  the  nineteenth  cen- 
tury,' in  such  a  way  that  not  a  single  great  name 
would  appear  and  men  would  be  promoted  to  the 
position  of  outstanding  authors  whose  books  today 
have  been  completely  forgotten." 

A  portion  of  any  critic,  as  he  reads  these  sen- 
tences, turns  white;  and  if  another  portion  whis- 
pers, "Ah,  but  you  needn't  be  afraid;  certainly 
you! re  not  as  bad  a  critic  as  Sainte-Beuve,"  it  is 
not  a  sentence  to  bring  the  color  back  into  his 
cheeks,  unless  he  blushes  easily. 

Wordsworth  said,  as  Proust  said  after  him,  that 
"every  writer,  in  so  far  as  he  is  great  and  at  the 
same  time  original,  has  the  task  of  creating  the 
taste  by  which  he  is  to  be  enjoyed:  so  is  it,  so  will 
it  continue  to  be."  But  taste,  he  goes  on  to  say,  is 
a  vicious  and  deluding  word.  (And  surely  he  is 
right;  surely  we  should  use,  instead,  a  phrase  like 
imaginative  judgment!)  Using  such  a  word  as  taste 
helps  to  make  us  believe  that  there  is  some  passive 
faculty  that  responds  to  the  new  work  of  art,  reg- 
istering the  work's  success  or  failure;  but  actually 

^  Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers 

the  new  work  must  call  forth  in  us  an  active  power 
analogous  to  that  which  created  it — the  reader 
"cannot  proceed  in  quiescence,  he  cannot  be  carried 
like  a  dead  weight,"  he  must  "exert  himself"  to  feel, 
to  sympathize,  and  to  understand.  "There"  as 
Wordsworth  says,  "lies  the  true  difficulty."  He  is 
right:  there  lies  the  difficulty  for  us,  whether  we 
are  critics  or  readers;  so  is  it,  so  will  it  continue 
to  be. 

You  may  say,  "Of  course  this  is  true  of  great  and 
original  talents,  but  how  does  it  apply  to  the  trivial, 
immature,  and  eccentric  writers  with  whom  our 
age,  like  any  other,  is  infested?"  It  applies  only  in 
this  way:  some  of  these  trivial,  immature,  and  ec- 
centric writers  are  our  great  and  original  talents. 
The  readers  of  Wordsworth's  age  said,  "Of  course 
what  he  says  is  true  of  great  and  original  talents, 
but  it  is  absurd  when  applied  to  a  trivial  and  eccen- 
tric creature  like  Wordsworth";  and  the  critics  of 
Wordsworth's  age,  applying  the  standards  of  the 
age  more  clearly,  forcibly,  and  self-consciously, 
could  condemn  him  with  a  more  drastic  severity. 
The  readers  read  to  read,  the  critics  read  to  judge 
— both  were  wrong,  but  the  critics  were  more  im- 
pressively and  rigorously  and  disastrously  wrong, 
since  they  confirmed  most  readers  in  their  dislike  of 
Wordsworth  and  scared  most  of  the  others  out  of 
their  liking. 

We  all  see  that  the  writer  cannot  afford  to  listen 
to  critics  when  they  are  wrong — though  how  is  he, 
how  are  we,  to  know  when  they  are  wrong?  Can 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers  I  Oy 

he  afford  to  listen  to  them  when  they  are  right? — 
though  how  is  he,  how  are  we,  to  know  when 
they  are  right?  and  right  for  this  age  or  right  for 
the  next?*  The  writer  cannot  afford  to  question  his 
own  essential  nature;  must  have,  as  Marianne  Moore 
says,  "the  courage  of  his  peculiarities."  But  often  it 
is  this  very  nature,  these  very  peculiarities — origi- 
nality always  seems  peculiarity,  to  begin  with — that 
critics  condemn.  There  must  be  about  the  writer  a 
certain  spontaneity  or  naivete  or  somnambulistic 
Tightness:  he  must,  in  some  sense,  move  unquestion- 
ing in  the  midst  of  his  world — at  his  question  all 
will  disappear. 

And  if  it  is  slighter  things,  alterable  things 
which  the  critics  condemn,  should  the  poet  give  in, 
alter  them,  and  win  his  critics'  surprised  approval? 
"No,"  says  Wordsworth,  "where  the  understand- 
ing of  an  author  is  not  convinced,  or  his  feelings 
altered,  this  cannot  be  done  without  great  injury  to 
himself:  for  his  own  feelings  are  his  stay  and  sup- 
port, and,  if  he  set  them  aside  in  this  one  instance, 
he  may  be  induced  to  repeat  this  act  till  his  mind 
shall  lose  all  confidence  in  itself,  and  become  ut- 
terly debilitated.  To  this  it  may  be  added,  that  the 
critic  ought  never  to  forget  that  he  is  himself  ex- 
posed to  the  same  errors  as  the  Poet."  Let  me  repeat 

*  "When  the  great  innovation  appears,  it  will  almost  cer- 
tainly be  in  a  muddled,  incomplete,  and  confusing  form.  To  the 
discoverer  himself  it  will  be  only  half -understood;  to  every- 
body else  it  will  be  a  mystery.  For  any  speculation  which  does 
not  at  first  glance  look  crazy,  there  is  no  hope." 

F.  L.  Dyson,  Innovation  in  Physics 

j  q o  Poets }  Critics,  and  Readers 

this:  we  ought  never  to  forget  that  the  critic  is 
himself  exposed  to  the  same  errors  as  the  poet.  We 
all  know  this — yet,  in  a  deeper  sense,  we  don't 
know  it.  We  all  realize  that  the  poet's  beliefs  are, 
first  of  all,  his:  our  books  show  how  his  epoch,  his 
childhood,  his  mistresses,  and  his  unconscious  pro- 
duced the  beliefs;  we  know,  now,  the  "real"  rea- 
sons for  his  believing  what  he  believed.  Why  do  we 
not  realize  what  is  equally  true  (and  equally 
false)? — that  the  critic's  beliefs  are,  first  of  all,  his; 
that  we  can  write  books  showing  how  his  epoch, 
his  childhood,  his  mistresses,  and  his  unconscious 
produced  the  beliefs;  that  we  can  know,  now,  the 
"real"  reasons  for  his  believing  what  he  believed. 
The  work  of  criticism  is  rooted  in  the  unconscious 
of  the  critic  just  as  the  poem  is  rooted  in  the  uncon- 
scious of  the  poet.  I  have  had  the  pleasure  and  ad- 
vantage of  knowing  many  poets,  many  critics,  and 
I  have  not  found  one  less  deeply  neurotic  than  the 

When  the  critic  is  also  an  artist — a  T.  S.  Eliot — 
we  find  it  easier  to  remember  all  this,  and  to  distrust 
him;  but  when  the  critic  is  an  Irving  Babbitt — 
that  is  to  say,  a  man  who,  tenanted  by  all  nine  of  the 
muses,  still  couldn't  create  a  couplet — we  tend  to 
think  of  his  beliefs  as  somehow  more  objective. 
"Surely,"  we  feel,  "a  man  with  so  little  imagination 
couldn't  be  making  up  something — couldn't  be  in- 
spired" We  are  wrong.  Criticism  is  the  poetry  of 
prosaic  natures  (and  even,  in  our  time,  of  some  po- 
etic ones) ;  there  is  a  divinity  that  inspires  the  most 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers  j  qq 

sheeplike  of  scholars,  the  most  tabular  of  critics,  so 
that  the  man  too  dull  to  understand  Evangeline  still 
can  be  possessed  by  some  theory  about  Evangeline, 
a  theory  as  just  to  his  own  being  as  it  is  unjust  to 
Evangeline7 s.  The  man  is  entitled  to  his  inspiration; 
and  yet  ...  if  only  he  would  leave  out  Evange- 
line/ If  only  he  could  secede  from  Literature,  and 
set  up  some  metaliterary  kingdom  of  his  own! 

The  poet  needs  to  be  deluded  about  his  poems — 
for  who  can  be  sure  that  it  is  delusion?  In  his  strong- 
est hours  the  public  hardly  exists  for  the  writer:  he 
does  what  he  ought  to  do,  has  to  do,  and  if  after- 
wards some  Public  wishes  to  come  and  crown  him 
with  laurel  crowns,  well,  let  it!  if  critics  wish  to  tell 
people  all  that  he  isn't,  well,  let  them — he  knows 
what  he  is.  But  at  night  when  he  can't  get  to  sleep 
it  seems  to  him  that  it  is  what  he  is,  his  own  particu- 
lar personal  quality,  that  he  is  being  disliked  for.  It 
is  this  that  the  future  will  like  him  for,  if  it  likes 
him  for  anything;  but  will  it  like  him  for  anything? 
The  poet's  hope  is  in  posterity,  but  it  is  a  pale  hope; 
and  now  that  posterity  itself  has  become  a  pale 
hope.  .  .  . 

The  writer — I  am  still  talking  about  the  writer- 
not-yet-able-to-go-to-sleep — is  willing  to  have  his 
work  disliked,  if  it's  bad;  is  ready  to  rest  content  in 
dislike,  if  it's  good.  But  which  is  it?  He  can't  know. 
He  thinks  of  all  those  pieces  of  his  that  he  once 
thought  good,  and  now  thinks  bad;  how  many  of 
his  current  swans  will  turn  out  to  be  just  such 
ducklings?  All  of  them?  If  he  were  worse,  would 

j  j  q  Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers 

people  like  him  better?  If  he  were  better,  would 
people  like  him  worse?  If — 

He  says  to  himself,  "Oh,  go  to  sleep!"  And  next 
morning,  working  at  something  the  new  day  has 
brought,  he  is  astonished  at  the  night's  thoughts — 
he  does  what  he  does,  and  lets  public,  critics,  pos- 
terity worry  about  whether  it's  worth  doing.  For 
to  tell  the  truth,  the  first  truth,  the  poem  is  a  love 
affair  between  the  poet  and  his  subject,  and  readers 
come  in  only  a  long  time  later,  as  witnesses  at  the 
wedding  .  .  . 

But  what  would  the  ideal  witnesses — the  ideal 
public — be?  What  would  an  ideal  public  do? 
Mainly,  essentially,  it  would  just  read  the  poet; 
read  him  with  a  certain  willingness  and  interest; 
read  him  imaginatively  and  perceptively.  It  needs 
him,  even  if  it  doesn't  know  that;  he  needs  it,  even 
if  he  doesn't  know  that.  It  and  he  are  like  people  in 
one  army,  one  prison,  one  world:  their  interests 
are  great  and  common,  and  deserve  a  kind  of  dec- 
laration of  dependence.  The  public  might  treat  him 
very  much  as  it  would  like  him  to  treat  it.  It  has  its 
faults,  he  has  his;  but  both  "are,  after  all,"  as  a  man 
said  about  women,  "the  best  things  that  are  offered 
in  that  line."  The  public  ought  not  to  demand  the 
same  old  thing  from  the  poet  whenever  he  writes 
something  very  new,  nor  ought  it  to  complain,  The 
same  old  thing!  whenever  he  writes  something  that 
isn't  very  new;  and  it  ought  to  realize  that  it  is  not, 
unfortunately,  in  the  writer's  power  to  control 
what  he  writes:  something  else  originates  and  con- 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers  1 1 1 

trols  it,  whether  you  call  that  something  else  the 
unconscious  or  Minerva  or  the  Muse.  The  writer 
writes  what  he  writes  just  as  the  public  likes  what 
it  likes;  he  can't  help  himself,  it  can't  help  itself, 
but  each  of  them  has  to  try:  most  of  our  morality, 
most  of  our  culture  are  in  the  trying. 

We  readers  can  be,  or  at  least  can  want  to  be, 
what  the  writer  himself  would  want  us  to  be:  a 
public  that  reads  a  lot — that  reads  widely,  joyfully, 
and  naturally;  a  public  whose  taste  is  formed  by 
acquaintance  with  the  good  and  great  writers  of 
many  ages,  and  not  simply  acquaintance  with  a  few 
fashionable  contemporaries  and  the  fashionable 
precursors  of  those;  a  public  with  broad  general 
expectations,  but  without  narrow  particular  de- 
mands, that  the  new  work  of  art  must  satisfy;  a 
public  that  reads  with  the  calm  and  ease  and  inde- 
pendence that  come  from  liking  things  in  them- 
selves, for  themselves. 

This  is  the  kind  of  public  that  the  poet  would 
like;  and  if  it  turned  out  to  be  the  kind  of  public 
that  wouldn't  like  him,  why,  surely  that  is  some- 
thing he  could  bear.  It  is  not  his  poems  but  poetry 
that  he  wants  people  to  read;  if  they  will  read 
Rilke's  and  Yeats's  and  Hardy's  poems,  he  can  bear 
to  have  his  own  poems  go  unread  forever.  He 
knows  that  their  poems  are  good  to  read,  and  that's 
something  he  necessarily  can't  know  about  his  own; 
and  he  knows,  too,  that  poetry  itself  is  good  to  read 
— that  if  you  cannot  read  poetry  easily  and  natu- 
rally and  joyfully,  you  are  cut  off  from  much  of 

112  Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers 

the  great  literature  of  the  past,  some  of  the  good 
literature  of  the  present.  Yet  the  poet  could  bear 
to  have  people  cut  off  from  all  that,  if  only  they 
read  widely,  naturally,  joyfully  in  the  rest  of  litera- 
ture: much  of  the  greatest  literature,  much  of  the 
greatest  poetry,  even,  is  in  prose.  If  people  read  this 
prose — read  even  a  little  of  it — generously  and 
imaginatively,  and  felt  it  as  truth  and  life,  as  a 
natural  and  proper  joy,  why,  that  would  be  enough. 

A  few  months  ago  I  read  an  interview  with  a 
critic;  a  well-known  critic;  an  unusually  humane 
and  intelligent  critic.  The  interviewer  had  just  said 
that  the  critic  "sounded  like  a  happy  man,"  and  the 
interview  was  drawing  to  a  close;  the  critic  said, 
ending  it  all:  "I  read,  but  I  don't  get  time  to  read  at 
whim.  All  the  reading  I  do  is  in  order  to  write  or 
teach,  and  I  resent  it.  We  have  no  TV,  and  I  don't 
listen  to  the  radio  or  records,  or  go  to  art  galleries 
or  the  theater.  I'm  a  completely  negative  person- 

As  I  thought  of  that  busy,  artless  life — no  rec- 
ords, no  paintings,  no  plays,  no  books  except  those 
you  lecture  on  or  write  articles  about — I  was  so 
depressed  that  I  went  back  over  the  interview  look- 
ing for  some  bright  spot,  and  I  found  it,  one  beauti- 
ful sentence:  for  a  moment  I  had  left  the  gray, 
dutiful  world  of  the  professional  critic,  and  was 
back  in  the  sunlight  and  shadow,  the  unconsidered 
joys,  the  unreasoned  sorrows,  of  ordinary  readers 
and  writers,  amateurishly  reading  and  writing  "at 
whim."  The  critic  said  that  once  a  year  he  read 

Poets,  Critics,  and  Readers  113 

Kim;  and  he  read  Kim,  it  was  plain,  at  whim:  not 
to  teach,  not  to  criticize,  just  for  love — he  read  it, 
as  Kipling  wrote  it,  just  because  he  liked  to,  wanted 
to,  couldn't  help  himself.  To  him  it  wasn't  a  means 
to  a  lecture  or  an  article,  it  was  an  end;  he  read  it 
not  for  anything  he  could  get  out  of  it,  but  for  it- 
self. And  isn't  this  what  the  work  of  art  demands 
of  us?  The  work  of  art,  Rilke  said,  says  to  us  al- 
ways: You  must  change  your  life.  It  demands  of 
us  that  we  too  see  things  as  ends,  not  as  means — 
that  we  too  know  them  and  love  them  for  their 
own  sake.  This  change  is  beyond  us,  perhaps,  during 
the  active,  greedy,  and  powerful  hours  of  our  lives; 
but  during  the  contemplative  and  sympathetic 
hours  of  our  reading,  our  listening,  our  looking,  it 
is  surely  within  our  power,  if  we  choose  to  make 
it  so,  if  we  choose  to  let  one  part  of  our  nature 
follow  its  natural  desires.  So  I  say  to  you,  for  a 
closing  sentence:  Read  at  whim/  read  at  whim! 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

Mark  Twain  said  that  it  isn't  what  they 
don't  know  that  hurts  people,  it's  what 
they  do  know  that  isn't  so.  This  is  true  of  Kipling. 
If  people  don't  know  about  Kipling  they  can  read 
Kipling,  and  then  they'll  know  about  Kipling:  it's 
ideal.  But  most  people  already  do  know  about 
Kipling — not  very  much,  but  too  much:  they 
know  what  isn't  so,  or  what  might  just  as  well  not 
be  so,  it  matters  so  little.  They  know  that,  just  as 
Calvin  Coolidge's  preacher  was  against  sin  and  the 
Snake  was  for  it,  Kipling  was  for  imperialism;  he 
talked  about  the  white  man's  burden;  he  was  a  crude 
popular — immensely  popular — writer  who  got 
popular  by  writing  "If,"  and  "On  the  Road  to 
Mandalay,"  and  "The  Jungle  Book,"  and  stories 
about  India  like  Somerset  Maugham,  and  children's 
stories;  he  wrote,  "East  is  East  and  West  is  West  and 
never  the  twain  shall  meet";  he  wrote,  "The  female 
of  the  species  is  more  deadly  than  the  male" — or 
was  that  Pope?  Somebody  wrote  it.  In  short:  Kip- 
ling was  someone  people  used  to  think  was  wonder- 
ful, but  we  know  better  than  that  now. 


On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  1 1  r 

People  certainly  didn't  know  better  than  that 
then.  "Dear  Harry,"  William  James  begins.  (It  is 
hard  to  remember,  hard  to  believe,  that  anyone  ever 
called  Henry  James  Harry,  but  if  it  had  to  be  done, 
William  James  was  the  right  man  to  do  it.)  "Last 
Sunday  I  dined  with  Howells  at  the  Childs',  and 
was  delighted  to  hear  him  say  that  you  were  both  a 
friend  and  an  admirer  of  Rudyard  Kipling.  I  am 
ashamed  to  say  that  I  have  been  ashamed  to  write  of 
that  infant  phenomenon,  not  knowing,  with  your 
exquisitely  refined  taste,  how  you  might  be  affected 
by  him  and  fearing  to  jar.  [It  is  wonderful  to  have 
the  engineer /Hoist  "with  his  own  petard. \  The 
more  rejoiced  am  I  at  this,  but  why  didn't  you  say 
so  ere  now?  He's  more  of  a  Shakespeare  than  any- 
one yet  in  this  generation  of  ours,  as  it  strikes  me. 
And  seeing  the  new  effects  he  lately  brings  in  in 
"The  Light  That  Failed,"  and  that  Simla  Ball  story 
with  Mrs.  Hauksbee  in  the  Illustrated  London 
News,  makes  one  sure  now  that  he  is  only  at  the 
beginning  of  a  rapidly  enlarging  career,  with  in- 
definite growth  before  him.  Much  of  his  present 
coarseness  and  jerkiness  is  youth  only,  divine  youth. 
But  what  a  youth!  Distinctly  the  biggest  literary 
phenomenon  of  our  time.  He  has  such  human  en- 
trails, and  he  takes  less  time  to  get  under  the  heart- 
strings of  his  personages  than  anyone  I  know.  On 
the  whole,  bless  him. 

"All  intellectual  work  is  the  same, — the  artist 
feeds  the  public  on  his  own  bleeding  insides.  Kant's 
Kritik  is  just  like  a  Strauss  waltz,  and  I  felt  the 

j  j  ^  On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

other  day,  finishing  "The  Light  That  Failed,"  and 
an  ethical  address  to  be  given  at  Yale  College 
simultaneously,  that  there  was  no  essential  differ- 
ence between  Rudyard  Kipling  and  myself  as  far  as 
that  sacrificial  element  goes." 

It  surprises  us  to  have  James  take  Kipling  so 
seriously,  without  reservations,  with  Shakespeare — 
to  treat  him  as  if  he  were  Kant's  Kritik  and  not  a 
Strauss  waltz.  (Even  Henry  James,  who  could 
refer  to  "the  good  little  Thomas  Hardy" — who  was 
capable  of  applying  to  the  Trinity  itself  the  adjec- 
tive poor — somehow  felt  that  he  needed  for  Kipling 
that  coarse  word  genius,  and  called  him,  at  worst, 
"the  great  little  Kipling.")  Similarly,  when  Goethe 
and  Matthew  Arnold  write  about  Byron,  we  are 
surprised  to  see  them  bringing  in  Shakespeare — are 
surprised  to  see  how  unquestioningly,  with  what 
serious  respect,  they  speak  of  Byron,  as  if  he  were 
an  ocean  or  a  new  ice  age:  "our  soul,"  wrote 
Arnold,  "had  felt  him  like  the  thunder's  roll."  It  is 
as  though  mere  common  sense,  common  humanity, 
required  this  of  them:  the  existence  of  a  world- 
figure  like  Byron  demands  (as  the  existence  of  a 
good  or  great  writer  does  not)  that  any  inhabitant 
of  the  world  treat  him  somehow  as  the  world  treats 
him.  Goethe  knew  that  Byron  "is  a  child  when  he 
reflects,"  but  this  did  not  prevent  him  from  treating 
Byron  exactly  as  he  treated  that  other  world-figure 

An  intelligent  man  said  that  the  world  felt  Napo- 
leon as  a  weight,  and  that  when  he  died  it  would 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  nj 

give  a  great  oof  of  relief.  This  is  just  as  true  of 
Byron,  or  of  such  Byrons  of  their  days  as  Kipling 
and  Hemingway:  after  a  generation  or  two  the 
world  is  tired  of  being  their  pedestal,  shakes  them 
off  with  an  oof,  and  then — hoisting  onto  its  back  a 
new  world-figure — feels  the  penetrating  satisfac- 
tion of  having  made  a  mistake  all  its  own.  Then  for 
a  generation  or  two  the  Byron  lies  in  the  dust  where 
we  left  him:  if  the  old  world  did  him  more  than 
justice,  a  new  one  does  him  less.  "If  he  was  so  good 
as  all  that  why  isn't  he  still  famous?"  the  new  world 
asks — if  it  asks  anything.  And  then  when  another 
generation  or  two  are  done,  we  decide  that  he 
wasn't  altogether  a  mistake  people  made  in  those 
days,  but  a  real  writer  after  all — that  if  we  like 
Childe  Harold  a  good  deal  less  than  anyone  thought 
of  liking  it  then,  we  like  Don  Juan  a  good  deal 
more.  Byron  was  a  writer,  people  just  didn't  realize 
the  sort  of  writer  he  was.  We  can  feel  impatient 
with  Byron's  world  for  liking  him  for  the  wrong 
reasons,  and  with  the  succeeding  world  for  disliking 
him  for  the  wrong  reasons,  and  we  are  glad  that 
our  world,  the  real  world,  has  at  last  settled  Byron's 

Kipling's  account  is  still  unsettled.  Underneath, 
we  still  hold  it  against  him  that  the  world  quoted 
him  in  its  sleep,  put  him  in  its  headlines  when  he 
was  ill,  acted  as  if  he  were  God;  we  are  glad  that  we 
have  Hemingway  instead,  to  put  in  our  headlines 
when  his  plane  crashes.  Kipling  is  in  the  dust,  and 
the  dust  seems  to  us  a  very  good  place  for  him.  But 

j  j  g  On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

in  twenty  or  thirty  years,  when  Hemingway  is 
there  instead,  and  we  have  a  new  Byron-Kipling- 
Hemingway  to  put  in  our  news-programs  when  his 
rocket  crashes,  our  resistance  to  Hemingway  will 
have  taken  the  place  of  our  resistance  to  Kipling, 
and  we  shall  find  ourselves  willing  to  entertain  the 
possibility  that  Kipling  was  a  writer  after  all — 
people  just  didn't  realize  the  sort  of  writer  he  was. 
There  is  a  way  of  travelling  into  this  future — of 
realizing,  now,  the  sort  of  writer  Kipling  was — 
that  is  unusually  simple,  but  that  people  are  unusu- 
ally unwilling  to  take.  The  way  is:  to  read  Kipling 
as  if  one  were  not  prepared  to  read  Kipling;  as  if 
one  didn't  already  know  about  Kipling — had  never 
been  told  how  readers  do  feel  about  Kipling,  should 
feel  about  Kipling;  as  if  one  were  setting  out,  naked, 
to  see  something  that  is  there  naked.  I  don't  en- 
tirely blame  the  reader  if  he  answers:  "Thanks  very 
much;  if  it's  just  the  same  to  you,  I'll  keep  my 
clothes  on."  It's  only  human  of  him — man  is  the 
animal  that  wears  clothes.  Yet  aren't  works  of  art 
in  some  sense  a  way  of  doing  without  clothes,  a 
means  by  which  reader,  writer,  and  subject  are 
able  for  once  to  accept  their  own  nakedness?  the 
nakedness  not  merely  of  the  "naked  truth,"  but  also 
of  the  naked  wishes  that  come  before  and  after  that 
truth?  To  read  Kipling,  for  once,  not  as  the  crudely 
effective,  popular  writer  we  know  him  to  be,  but 
as,  perhaps,  the  something  else  that  even  crudely 
effective,  popular  writers  can  become,  would  be  to 
exhibit  a  magnanimity  that  might  do  justice  both  to 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  j  j  g 

Kipling's  potentialities  and  to  our  own.  Kipling  did 
have,  at  first,  the  "coarseness  and  jerkiness"  and 
mannered  vanity  of  youth,  human  youth;  Kipling 
did  begin  as  a  reporter,  did  print  in  newspapers  the 
Plain  Tales  from  the  Hills  which  ordinary  readers — 
and,  unfortunately,  most  extraordinary  ones — do 
think  typical  of  his  work;  but  then  for  half  a  cen- 
tury he  kept  writing.  Chekhov  began  by  writing 
jokes  for  magazines,  skits  for  vaudeville;  Shake- 
speare began  by  writing  Titus  Andronicus  and  The 
Two  Gentlemen  of  Verona,  some  of  the  crudest 
plays  any  crudely  effective,  popular  writer  has  ever 
turned  out.  Kipling  is  neither  a  Chekhov  nor  a 
Shakespeare,  but  he  is  far  closer  to  both  than  to 
the  clothing-store-dummy-with-the-solar-topee  we 
have  agreed  to  call  Kipling.  Kipling,  like  it  or  not, 
admit  it  or  not,  was  a  great  genius;  and  a  great 
neurotic;  and  a  great  professional,  one  of  the  most 
skillful  writers  who  have  ever  existed — one  of  the 
writers  who  have  used  English  best,  one  of  the 
writers  who  most  often  have  made  other  writers 
exclaim,  in  the  queer  tone  they  used  for  the  excla- 
mation: "Well,  I've  got  to  admit  it  really  is  writ- 
ten" When  he  died  and  was  buried  in  that  foreign 
land  England,  that  only  the  Anglo-Indians  know, 
I  wish  that  they  had  put  above  his  grave,  there  in 
their  Westminster  Abbey:  "It  really  was  written" 
Mies  van  der  Rohe  said,  very  beautifully:  "I  don't 
want  to  be  interesting,  I  want  to  be  good."  Kipling, 
a  great  realist  but  a  greater  inventor,  could  have 
said  that  he  didn't  want  to  be  realistic,  he  wanted  to 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

get  it  right:  that  he  wanted  it  not  the  way  it  did  or 
— statistics  show — does  happen,  but  the  way  it 
really  would  happen.  You  often  feel  about  some- 
thing in  Shakespeare  or  Dostoievsky  that  nobody 
ever  said  such  a  thing,  but  that  it's  just  the  sort  of 
thing  people  would  say  if  they  could — is  more  real, 
in  some  sense,  than  what  people  do  say.  If  you  have 
given  your  imagination  free  rein,  let  things  go  as 
far  as  they  want  to  go,  the  world  they  made  for 
themselves  while  you  watched  can  have,  for  you 
and  later  watchers,  a  spontaneous  finality.  Some  of 
Kipling  has  this  spontaneous  finality;  and  because 
he  has  written  so  many  different  kinds  of  stories — 
no  writer  of  fiction  of  comparable  genius  has  de- 
pended so  much,  for  so  long,  on  short  stories  alone 
— you  end  dazzled  by  his  variety  of  realization:  so 
many  plants,  and  so  many  of  them  dewy! 

If  I  had  to  pick  one  writer  to  invent  a  conversa- 
tion between  an  animal,  a  god,  and  a  machine,  it 
would  be  Kipling.  To  discover  what,  if  they  ever 
said,  the  dumb  would  say— this  takes  real  imagi- 
nation; and  this  imagination  of  what  isn't  is  the 
extension  of  a  real  knowledge  of  what  is,  the 
knowledge  of  a  consummate  observer  who  took  no 
notes,  except  of  names  and  dates:  "if  a  thing  didn't 
stay  in  my  memory  I  argued  it  was  hardly  worth 
writing  out."  Knowing  what  the  peoples,  animals, 
plants,  weathers  of  the  world  look  like,  sound  like, 
smell  like,  was  Kipling's  metier,  and  so  was  know- 
ing the  words  that  could  make  someone  else  know. 
You  can  argue  about  the  judgment  he  makes  of 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  l2\ 

something,  but  the  thing  is  there.  When  as  a  child 
you  first  begin  to  read,  what  attracts  you  to  a  book 
is  illustrations  and  conversations,  and  what  scares 
you  away  is  "long  descriptions."  In  Kipling  il- 
lustration and  conversation  and  description  (not 
long  description;  read,  even  the  longest  of  his  de- 
scriptions is  short)  have  merged  into  a  "toothsome 
amalgam"  which  the  child  reads  with  a  grown-up's 
ease,  and  the  grown-up  with  a  child's  wonder. 
Often  Kipling  writes  with  such  grace  and  com- 
mand, such  a  combination  of  experienced  mastery 
and  congenital  inspiration,  that  we  repeat  with 
Goethe:  "Seeing  someone  accomplishing  arduous 
things  with  ease  gives  us  an  impression  of  witness- 
ing the  impossible."  Sometimes  the  arduous  thing 
Kipling  is  accomplishing  seems  to  us  a  queer,  even 
an  absurd  thing  for  anyone  to  wish  to  accomplish. 
But  don't  we  have  to  learn  to  consent  to  this,  with 
Kipling  as  with  other  good  writers? — to  consent  to 
the  fact  that  good  writers  just  don't  have  good 
sense;  that  they  are  going  to  write  it  their  way,  not 
ours;  that  they  are  never  going  to  have  the  objec- 
tive, impersonal  rightness  they  should  have,  but 
only  the  subjective,  personal  wrongness  from 
which  we  derived  the  idea  of  the  rightness.  The 
first  thing  we  notice  about  War  and  Peace  and 
Madame  Bovary  and  Remembrance  of  Things  Past 
is  how  wonderful  they  are;  the  second  thing  we 
notice  is  how  much  they  have  wrong  with  them. 
They  are  not  at  all  the  perfect  work  of  art  we 
want — so  perhaps  Ruskin  was  right  when  he  said 

122  On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

that  the  person  who  wants  perfection  knows  noth- 
ing about  art. 

Kipling  says  about  a  lion  cub  he  and  his  family 
had  on  the  Cape:  "He  dozed  on  the  stoep,  I  noticed, 
due  north  and  south,  looking  with  slow  eyes  up  the 
length  of  Africa";  this,  like  several  thousand  such 
sentences,  makes  you  take  for  granted  the  truth  of 
his  "I  made  my  own  experiments  in  the  weights, 
colors,  perfumes,  and  attributes  of  words  in  rela- 
tion to  other  words,  either  as  read  aloud  so  that 
they  may  hold  the  ear,  or,  scattered  over  the  page, 
draw  the  eye."  His  words  range  from  gaudy  effec- 
tiveness to  perfection;  he  is  a  professional  magician 
but,  also,  a  magician.  He  says  about  stories:  "A  tale 
from  which  pieces  have  been  raked  out  is  like  a  fire 
that  has  been  poked.  One  does  not  know  that  the 
operation  has  been  performed,  but  everyone  feels 
the  effect."  (He  even  tells  you  how  best  to  rake  out 
the  pieces:  with  a  brush  and  Chinese  ink  you  grind 
yourself.)  He  is  a  kind  of  Liszt— so  isn't  it  just 
empty  bravura,  then?  Is  Liszt's?  Sometimes;  but 
sometimes  bravura  is  surprisingly  full,  sometimes 
virtuosos  are  surprisingly  plain:  to  boil  a  potato 
perfectly  takes  a  chef  home  from  the  restaurant  for 
the  day. 

Kipling  was  just  such  a  potato-boiler:  a  profes- 
sional knower  of  professionals,  a  great  trapeze- 
artist,  cabinet-maker,  prestidigitator,  with  all  the 
unnumbered  details  of  others'  guilds,  crafts,  mys- 
teries, techniques  at  the  tip  of  his  fingers — or,  at 
least,  at  the  tip  of  his  tongue.  The  first  sentences  he 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  1 2  3 

could  remember  saying  as  a  child  had  been  halt- 
ingly translated  into  English  "from  the  vernacular" 
(that  magical  essential  phrase  for  the  reader  of  Kip- 
ling! )  and  just  as  children  feel  that  it  is  they  and  not 
the  grown-ups  who  see  the  truth,  so  Kipling  felt 
about  many  things  that  it  is  the  speakers  of  the 
vernacular  and  not  the  sahibs  who  tell  the  truth; 
that  there  are  many  truths  that,  to  be  told  at  all, 
take  the  vernacular.  From  childhood  on  he  learned 
— to  excess  or  obsession,  even — the  vernaculars  of 
earth,  the  worlds  inside  the  world,  the  many  species 
into  which  place  and  language  and  work  divide 
man.  From  the  species  which  the  division  of  labor 
produces  it  is  only  a  step  to  the  animal  species  which 
evolutionary  specialization  produces,  so  that  Kip- 
ling finds  it  easy  to  write  stories  about  animals; 
from  the  vernaculars  or  dialects  or  cants  which 
place  or  profession  produces  (Kipling's  slogan  is, 
almost,  "The  cant  is  the  man")  it  is  only  a  step  to 
those  which  time  itself  produces,  so  that  Kipling 
finds  it  easy  to  write  stories  about  all  the  different 
provinces  of  the  past,  or  the  future  (in  "As  Easy  as 
A.B.C."),  or  Eternity  (if  his  queer  institutional 
stories  of  the  bureaucracies  of  Heaven  and  Hell  are 
located  there).  Kipling  was  no  Citizen  of  the 
World,  but  like  the  Wandering  Jew  he  had  lived  in 
many  places  and  known  many  peoples,  an  uncom- 
fortable stranger  repeating  to  himself  the  comforts 
of  earth,  all  its  immemorial  contradictory  ways  of 
being  at  home. 

Goethe,  very  winningly,  wanted  to  have  put  on 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

his  grave  a  sentence  saying  that  he  had  never  been 
a  member  of  any  guild,  and  was  an  amateur  until 
the  day  he  died.  Kipling  could  have  said,  "I  never 
saw  the  guild  I  wasn't  a  member  of,"  and  was  a 
professional  from  the  day  he  first  said  to  his  ayah, 
in  the  vernacular — not  being  a  professional  myself, 
I  don't  know  what  it  was  he  said,  but  it  was  the  sort 
of  thing  a  man  would  say  who,  from  the  day  he  was 
sixteen  till  the  day  he  was  twenty-three,  was  always 
—"luxury  of  which  I  dream  still!"— shaved  by  his 
servant  before  he  woke  up  in  the  morning. 

This  fact  of  his  life,  I've  noticed,  always  makes 

hearers  give  a  little  shiver;  but  it  is  all  the  mornings 

when  no  one  shaved  Kipling  before  Kipling  woke 

up,  because  Kipling  had  never  been  to  sleep,  that 

make  me  shiver.  "Such  night-wakings"  were  "laid 

upon  me  through  my  life,"  Kipling  writes,  and  tells 

you  in  magical  advertising  prose  how  lucky  the 

wind  before  dawn  always  was  for  him.  You  and  I 

should  have  such  luck!  Kipling  was  a  professional, 

but  a  professional  possessed  by  both  the  Daemon  he 

tells  you  about,  who  writes  some  of  the  stories  for 

him,  and  the  demons  he  doesn't  tell  you  about,  who 

write  some  others.  Nowadays  we've  learned  to  call 

part  of  the  unconscious  it  or  id;  Kipling  had  not,  but 

he  called  this  Personal  Demon  of  his  it.  (When  he 

told  his  father  that  Kim  was  finished  his  father 

asked:  "Did  it  stop,  or  you?"  Kipling  "told  him  that 

it  was  It.")  "When  your  Daemon  is  in  charge," 

Kipling  writes,  "do  not  try  to  think  consciously. 

Drift,  wait,  and  obey."  He  was  sure  of  the  books  in 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  1 2  5 

which  "my  Daemon  was  with  me  .  .  .  When 
those  books  were  finished  they  said  so  themselves 
with,  almost,  the  water-hammer  click  of  a  tap 
turned  off."  (Yeats  said  that  a  poem  finishes  itself 
with  a  click  like  a  closing  box.)  Kipling  speaks  of 
the  "doom  of  the  makers":  when  their  Daemon  is 
missing  they  are  no  better  than  anybody  else;  but 
when  he  is  there,  and  they  put  down  what  he  dic- 
tates, "the  work  he  gives  shall  continue,  whether  in 
earnest  or  jest."  Kipling  even  "learned  to  distin- 
guish between  the  peremptory  motions  of  my 
Daemon,  and  the  'carry-over'  of  induced  electric- 
ity, which  comes  of  what  you  might  call  mere 
'factional'  writing."  We  always  tend  to  distrust 
geniuses  about  genius,  as  if  what  they  say  didn't 
arouse  much  empathy  in  us,  or  as  if  we  were  wait- 
ing till  some  more  reliable  source  of  information 
came  along;  still,  isn't  what  Kipling  writes  a  colored 
version  of  part  of  the  plain  truth? — there  is  plenty 
of  supporting  evidence.  But  it  is  interesting  to  me  to 
see  how  thoroughly  Kipling  manages  to  avoid  any 
subjective  guilt,  fallible  human  responsibility,  so 
that  he  can  say  about  anything  in  his  stories  either: 
"Entirely  conscious  and  correct,  objectively  estab- 
lished, independently  corroborated,  the  experts 
have  testified,  the  professionals  agree,  it  is  the  con- 
sensus of  the  authorities  at  the  Club,"  or  else:  "I  had 
nothing  to  do  with  it.  I  know  nothing  about  it.  It  did 
it.  The  Daemon  did  it  all."  The  reader  of  Kipling — 
this  reader  at  least — hates  to  give  all  the  credit  to 
the  Professional  or  to  the  Daemon;  perhaps  the 

*  On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

demons  had  something  to  do  with  it  too.  Let  us  talk 
about  the  demons. 

One  writer  says  that  we  only  notice  what  hurts 
us — that  if  you  went  through  the  world  without 
hurting  anyone,  nobody  would  even  know  you  had 
been  alive.  This  is  quite  false,  but  true,  too:  if  you 
put  it  in  terms  of  the  derivation  of  the  Principle  of 
Reality  from  the  primary  Principle  of  Pleasure,  it 
does  not  even  sound  shocking.  But  perhaps  we  only 
notice  a  sentence  if  it  sounds  shocking — so  let  me 
say  grotesquely:  Kipling  was  someone  who  had 
spent  six  years  in  a  concentration  camp  as  a  child; 
he  never  got  over  it.  As  a  very  young  man  he  spent 
seven  years  in  an  India  that  confirmed  his  belief  in 
concentration  camps;  he  never  got  over  this  either. 

As  everybody  remembers,  one  of  Goya's  worst 
engravings  has  underneath  it:  7  saw  it.  Some  of  Kip- 
ling has  underneath:  It  is  there.  Since  the  world  is  a 
necessary  agreement  that  it  isn't  there,  the  world 
answered:  It  isn't,  and  told  Kipling  what  a  wonder- 
ful imagination  he  had.  Part  of  the  time  Kipling 
answered  stubbornly:  I've  been  there  (I  am  there 
would  have  been  even  truer)  and  part  of  the  time 
he  showed  the  world  what  a  wonderful  imagination 
he  had.  Say  Fairy-tales!  enough  to  a  writer  and  he 
will  write  you  fairy-tales.  But  to  our  Are  you  tell- 
ing me  the  truth  or  are  you  reassuring  yourself? — 
we  ask  it  often  of  any  writer,  but  particularly  often 
of  Kipling — he  sometimes  can  say  truthfully:  Re- 
assuring you;  we  and  Kipling  have  interests  in 
common.  Kipling  knew  that  "every  nation,  like 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  j  2  y 

every  individual,  walks  in  a  vain  show — else  it 
could  not  live  with  itself";  Kipling  knew  people's 
capacity  not  to  see:  "through  all  this  shifting,  shout- 
ing brotheldom  the  pious  British  householder  and 
his  family  bored  their  way  back  from  the  theaters, 
eyes-front  and  fixed,  as  though  not  seeing."  But  he 
himself  had  seen,  and  so  believed  in,  the  City  of 
Dreadful  Night,  and  the  imperturbable  or  deliri- 
ous or  dying  men  who  ran  the  city;  this  City  outside 
was  the  duplicate  of  the  City  inside;  and  when  the 
people  of  Victorian  Europe  didn't  believe  in  any  of 
it,  except  as  you  believe  in  a  ghost  story,  he  knew 
that  this  was  only  because  they  didn't  know — he 
knew.  So  he  was  obsessed  by — wrote  about, 
dreamed  about,  and  stayed  awake  so  as  not  to  dream 
about — many  concentration  camps,  of  the  soul  as 
well  as  of  the  body;  many  tortures,  hauntings,  hal- 
lucinations, deliria,  diseases,  nightmares,  practical 
jokes,  revenges,  monsters,  insanities,  neuroses, 
abysses,  forlorn  hopes,  last  chances,  extremities  of 
every  kind;  these  and  their  sweet  opposites.  He  feels 
the  convalescent's  gratitude  for  mere  existence,  that 
the  world  is  what  the  world  was:  how  blue  the  day 
is,  to  the  eye  that  has  been  blinded!  Kipling  praises 
the  cessation  of  pain  and  its  more  blessed  accession, 
when  the  body's  anguish  blots  out  for  a  little  "Life's 
grinning  face  ...  the  trusty  Worm  that  dieth  not, 
the  steadfast  Fire  also."  He  praises  man's  old  uses, 
home  and  all  the  ways  of  home:  its  Father  and 
Mother,  there  to  run  to  if  you  could  only  wake;  and 
praises  all  our  dreams  of  waking,  our  fantasies  of 

o  On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

return  or  revenge  or  insensate  endurance.  He 
praises  the  words  he  has  memorized,  that  man  has 
made  from  the  silence;  the  senses  that  cancel  each 
other  out,  that  man  has  made  from  the  senselessness; 
the  worlds  man  has  made  from  the  world;  but  he 
praises  and  reproduces  the  sheer  charm  of—- few 
writers  are  so  purely  charming! — the  world  that 
does  not  need  to  have  anything  done  to  it,  that  is 
simply  there  around  us  as  we  are  there  in  it.  He 
knows  the  joy  of  finding  exactly  the  right  words 
for  what  there  are  no  words  for;  the  satisfactions  of 
sentimentality  and  brutality  and  love  too,  the  "ex- 
quisite tenderness"  that  began  in  cruelty.  But  in  the 
end  he  thanks  God  most  for  the  small  drugs  that 
last — -is  grateful  that  He  has  not  laid  on  us  "the  yoke 
of  too  long  Fear  and  Wonder,"  but  has  given  us 
Habit  and  Work:  so  that  his  Seraphs  waiting  at  the 
Gate  praise  God 

Not  for  any  miracle  of  easy  Loaves  and  Fishes 

But  for  doing,  'gainst  our  will,  work  against  our 

Such  as  finding  food  to  fill  daily  emptied  dishes  .  .  . 

praise  him 

Not  for  Prophecies  or  Powers,   Visions,  Gifts,  or 

But  the  unregardful  hours  that  grind  us  in  our  places 
With  the  burden  on  our  backs,  the  weather  in  our 


"Give  me  the  first  six  years  of  a  child's  life  and 
you  can  have  the  rest"  are  the  first  words  of  Some- 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  !  2  g 

thing  of  Myself,  Kipling's  reticent  and  revealing 
autobiography.  The  sentence  exactly  fits  and  ex- 
actly doesn't  fit.  For  the  first  six  years  of  his  life  the 
child  lived  in  Paradise,  the  inordinately  loved  and 
reasonably  spoiled  son  of  the  best  of  parents;  after 
that  he  lived  in  the  Hell  in  which  the  best  of  parents 
put  him,  and  paid  to  have  him  kept:  in  "a  dark  land, 
and  a  darker  room  full  of  cold,  in  one  wall  of  which 
a  woman  made  naked  fire  ...  a  woman  who  took 
in  children  whose  parents  were  in  India."  The  child 
did  not  see  his  parents  again  for  the  next  six  years. 
He  accepted  the  Hell  as  "eternally  established  .  .  . 
I  had  never  heard  of  Hell,  so  I  was  introduced  to  it 
in  all  its  terrors  ...  I  was  regularly  beaten  .  .  . 
I  have  known  a  certain  amount  of  bullying,  but  this 
was  calculated  torture — religious  as  well  as  scien- 
tific .  .  .  Deprivation  from  reading  was  added  to 
my  punishments  ...  I  was  well  beaten  and  sent  to 
school  through  the  streets  of  Southsea  with  the 
placard  "Liar"  between  my  shoulders  .  .  .  Some 
sort  of  nervous  breakdown  followed,  for  I  imagined 
I  saw  shadows  and  things  that  were  not  there,  and 
they  worried  me  more  than  the  Woman  ...  A 
man  came  down  to  see  me  as  to  my  eyes  and  re- 
ported that  I  was  half-blind.  This,  too,  was  sup- 
posed to  be  'sho wing-off,'  and  I  was  segregated 
from  my  sister — another  punishment — as  a  sort  of 
moral  leper." 

At  the  end  of  the  six  years  the  best  of  parents 
came  back  for  their  leper  ("she  told  me  afterwards 
that  when  she  first  came  up  to  my  room  to  kiss  me 

j  -  0  On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

goodnight,  I  flung  up  an  arm  to  guard  off  the  cuff  I 
had  been  trained  to  expect"),  and  for  the  rest  of 
their  lives  they  continued  to  be  the  best  and  most 
loving  of  parents,  blamed  by  Kipling  for  nothing, 
adored  by  Kipling  for  everything:  "I  think  I  can 
truthfully  say  that  those  two  made  up  for  me  the 
only  public  for  whom  then  I  had  any  regard  what- 
ever till  their  deaths,  in  my  forty-fifth  year." 

My  best  of  parents  cannot  help  sounding  ironic, 
yet  I  do  not  mean  it  as  irony.  From  the  father's  bas- 
reliefs  for  Kim  to  the  mother's  "There's  no  Mother 
in  Poetry,  my  dear,"  when  the  son  got  angry  at  her 
criticism  of  his  poems — from  beginning  to  end  they 
are  bewitching;  you  cannot  read  about  them  with- 
out wanting  to  live  with  them;  they  were  the  best  of 
parents.  It  is  this  that  made  Kipling  what  he  was:  if 
they  had  been  the  worst  of  parents,  even  fairly  bad 
parents,  even  ordinary  parents,  it  would  all  have 
made  sense,  Kipling  himself  could  have  made  sense 
out  of  it.  As  it  was,  his  world  had  been  torn  in  two 
and  he  himself  torn  in  two:  for  under  the  part  of 
him  that  extenuated  everything,  blamed  for  noth- 
ing, there  was  certainly  a  part  that  extenuated  noth- 
ing, blamed  for  everything — a  part  whose  existence 
he  never  admitted,  most  especially  not  to  himself. 
He  says  about  some  of  the  things  that  happened  to 
him  during  those  six  years:  "In  the  long  run  these 
things  and  many  more  of  the  like  drained  me  of  any 
capacity  for  real,  personal  hatred  for  the  rest  of  my 
life."  To  admit  from  the  unconscious  something 
inadmissible,  one  can  simply  deny  it,  bring  it  up  into 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  I  ^  ! 

the  light  with  a  No;  Kipling  has  done  so  here — the 
capacity  for  real,  personal  hatred,  real,  personal 
revenge,  summary  fictional  justice,  is  plain  through- 
out Kipling's  work.  Listen  to  him  tell  how  he  first 
began  to  write.  He  has  just  been  told  about  Dante: 
"I  bought  a  fat,  American-cloth-bound  notebook 
and  set  to  work  on  an  Inferno,  into  which  I  put, 
under  appropriate  tortures,  all  my  friends  and  most 
of  the  masters."  (Why  only  most?  Two  were 
spared,  one  for  the  Father  and  one  for  the  Mother.) 
Succinct  and  reticent  as  Something  of  Myself  is,  it 
has  room  for  half  a  dozen  scenes  in  which  the  help- 
less Kipling  is  remorselessly,  systematically,  com- 
prehensively humiliated  before  the  inhabitants  of 

his  universe.  At  school,  for  instance:  "H then 

told  me  off  before  my  delighted  companions  in  his 
best  style,  which  was  acid  and  contumelious.  He 
wound  up  with  a  few  general  remarks  about  dying 
as  a  'scurrilous  journalist'  .  .  .  The  tone,  matter, 
and  setting  of  his  discourse  were  as  brutal  as  they 
were  meant  to  be — brutal  as  the  necessary  wrench 
on  the  curb  that  fetches  up  a  too-flippant  colt."  Oh, 
necessary,  entirely  necessary,  we  do  but  torture  in 
education!  one  murmurs  to  these  methodical  justifi- 
cations of  brutality  as  methodical,  one  of  author- 
ity's necessary  stages.  Here  is  another  master: 
"Under  him  I  came  to  feel  that  words  could  be 
used  as  weapons,  for  he  did  me  the  honor  to  talk  at 
me  plentifully  .  .  .  One  learns  more  from  a  good 
scholar  in  a  rage  than  from  a  score  of  lucid  and 
laborious  drudges;  and  to  be  made  the  butt  of  one's 

j  ^  2  ®n  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

companions  in  full  form  is  no  bad  preparation  for 
later  experiences.  I  think  this  'approach*  is  now  dis- 
couraged for  fear  of  hurting  the  soul  of  youth,  but 
in  essence  it  is  no  more  than  rattling  tins  or  firing 
squibs  under  a  colt's  nose.  I  remember  nothing  save 

satisfaction  or  envy  when  C broke  his  precious 

ointments  over  my  head."  Nothing?  Better  for 
Kipling  if  he  had  remembered — not  remembering 
gets  rid  of  nothing.  Yet  who  knows?  he  may  even 
have  felt — known  that  he  felt — "nothing  save  satis- 
faction and  envy,"  the  envying  satisfaction  of  iden- 
tification. As  he  says,  he  was  learning  from  a 
master  to  use  words  as  weapons,  but  he  had  already 
learned  from  his  life  a  more  difficult  lesson:  to 
know  that,  no  matter  how  the  sick  heart  and  raw 
being  rebel,  it  is  all  for  the  best;  in  the  past  there 
were  the  best  of  masters  and  in  the  future  there  will 
be  the  best  of  masters,  if  only  we  can  wait  out,  bear 
out,  the  brutal  present — the  incomprehensible  pres- 
ent that  some  day  we  shall  comprehend  as  a  lesson. 
The  scene  changes  from  England  to  India,  school 
to  Club,  but  the  action — passion,  rather — is  the 
same:  "As  I  entered  the  long,  shabby  dining-room 
where  we  all  sat  at  one  table,  everybody  hissed.  I 
was  innocent  enough  to  ask:  'What's  the  joke? 
Who  are  they  hissing?'  'You,'  said  the  man  at  my 
side.  'Your  damn  rag  has  ratted  over  the  Bill.'  It  is 
not  pleasant  to  sit  still  when  one  is  twenty  while 
all  your  universe  hisses  you."  One  expects  next  a 
sentence  about  how  customary  and  salutary  hissing 
is  for  colts,  but  for  once  it  doesn't  come;  and  when 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  I  3  3 

Kipling's  syntax  suffers  as  it  does  in  this  sentence, 
he  is  remembering  something  that  truly  is  not 
pleasant.  He  even  manages  somewhat  to  justify, 
somehow  to  justify,  his  six  years  in  Hell:  the  devils' 
inquisitions,  after  all,  "made  me  give  attention  to  the 
lies  I  soon  found  it  necessary  to  tell;  and  this,  I 
presume,  is  the  foundation  of  literary  effort.  .  . 
Nor  was  my  life  an  unsuitable  preparation  for  my 
future,  in  that  it  demanded  constant  wariness,  the 
habit  of  observation  and  attendance  on  moods  and 
tempers;  the  noting  of  discrepancies  between  speech 
and  action;  a  certain  reserve  of  demeanor;  and  auto- 
matic suspicion  of  sudden  favors."  I  have  seen 
writers  called  God's  spies,  but  Kipling  makes  it 
sound  as  if  they  were  just  spies — or  spies  on  God. 
If  only  he  could  have  blamed  God — his  Gods — a 
little  consciously,  forgiven  them  a  little  uncon- 
sciously! could  have  felt  that  someone,  sometimes, 
doesn't  mean  something  to  happen!  But  inside,  and 
inside  stories,  everything  is  meant. 

After  you  have  read  Kipling's  fifty  or  seventy- 
five  best  stories  you  realize  that  few  men  have  writ- 
ten this  many  stories  of  this  much  merit,  and  that 
very  few  have  written  more  and  better  stories. 
Chekhov  and  Turgenev  are  two  who  immediately 
come  to  mind;  and  when  I  think  of  their  stories  I 
cannot  help  thinking  of  what  seems  to  me  the 
greatest  lack  in  Kipling's.  I  don't  know  exactly 
what  to  call  it:  a  lack  of  dispassionate  moral  under- 
standing, perhaps — of  the  ability  both  to  under- 
stand   things    and    to    understand    that    there    is 

11  a  On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

nothing  to  do  about  them.  (In  a  story,  after  all, 
there  is  always  something  you  can  do,  something 
that  a  part  of  you  is  always  trying  to  make  you  do.) 
Kipling  is  a  passionate  moralist,  with  a  detailed  and 
occasionally  profound  knowledge  of  part  of  things; 
but  his  moral  spectrum  has  shifted,  so  that  he  can  see 
far  down  into  the  infra-red,  but  is  blind  for  some 
frequencies  normal  eyes  are  sensitive  to.  His  moral- 
ity is  the  one-sided,  desperately  protective,  some- 
times vindictive  morality  of  someone  who  has  been 
for  some  time  the  occupant  of  one  of  God's  con- 
centration camps,  and  has  had  to  spend  the  rest  of 
his  life  justifying  or  explaining  out  of  existence 
what  he  cannot  forget.  Kipling  tries  so  hard  to 
celebrate  and  justify  true  authority,  the  work  and 
habit  and  wisdom  of  the  world,  because  he  feels  so 
bitterly  the  abyss  of  pain  and  insanity  that  they 
overlie,  and  can  do — even  will  do — nothing  to  pre- 

Kipling's  morality  is  the  morality  of  someone 
who  has  to  prove  that  God  is  not  responsible  for 
part  of  the  world,  and  that  the  Devil  is.  If  Father 
and  Mother  were  not  to  blame  for  anything,  yet 
what  did  happen  to  you  could  happen  to  you — if 
God  is  good,  and  yet  the  concentration  camps  exist 
— then  there  has  to  be  someone  to  blame,  and  to 
punish  too,  some  real,  personal  source  of  the  world's 
evil.  (He  finishes  "At  the  End  of  the  Passage"  by 
having  someone  quote:  "There  may  be  Heaven, 
there  must  be  Hell./  Meanwhile  there  is  our  life 
here.  Well?"  In  most  of  his  stories  he  sees  to  it  that 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  j  ->  r 

our  life  here  is  Heaven  and  Hell.)  But  in  this  world, 
often,  there  is  nothing  to  praise  but  no  one  to  blame, 
and  Kipling  can  bear  to  admit  this  in  only  a  few  of 
his  stories.  He  writes  about  one  source  of  things  in 
his  childhood:  "And  somehow  or  other  I  came 
across  a  tale  about  a  lion-hunter  in  South  Africa 
who  fell  among  lions  who  were  all  Freemasons, 
and  with  them  entered  into  a  conspiracy  against 
some  wicked  baboons.  I  think  that,  too,  lay  dormant 
until  the  Jungle  Books  began  to  be  born."  In  Che- 
khov or  Turgenev,  somehow  or  other,  the  lions 
aren't  really  Freemasons  and  the  baboons  aren't 
really  wicked.  In  Chekhov  and  Turgenev,  in  fact, 
most  of  the  story  has  disappeared  from  the  story: 
there  was  a  lion-hunter  in  South  Africa,  and  first  he 
shot  the  lions,  and  then  he  shot  the  baboons,  and 
finally  he  shot  himself;  and  yet  it  wasn't  wicked, 
exactly,  but  human — very  human. 

Kipling  had  learned  too  well  and  too  soon  that,  in 
William  James'  words:  "The  normal  process  of  life 
contains  moments  as  bad  as  any  of  those  which  in- 
sane melancholy  is  filled  with,  moments  in  which 
radical  evil  gets  its  innings  and  takes  its  solid  turn. 
The  lunatic's  visions  of  horror  are  all  drawn  from 
the  material  of  daily  fact.  Our  civilization  is 
founded  on  the  shambles,  and  each  individual  exist- 
ence goes  out  in  a  lonely  spasm  of  helpless  agony. 
If  you  protest,  my  friend,  wait  till  you  arrive  there 
yourself!"  Kipling  had  arrived  there  early  and  re- 
turned there  often.  One  thinks  sadly  of  how  deeply 
congenial  to  this  torturing  obsessive  knowledge  of 

/-  On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

Kipling's  the  first  World  War  was:  the  death  and 
anguish  of  Europe  produced  some  of  his  best  and 
most  terrible  stories,  and  the  death  of  his  own  son, 
his  own  anguish,  produced  "Mary  Postgate,"  that 
nightmare-ish,  most  human  and  most  real  day- 
dream of  personal  revenge.  The  world  ivas  Hell 
and  India  underneath,  after  all;  and  he  could  say  to 
the  Victorian,  Edwardian  Europeans  who  had 
thought  it  all  just  part  of  his  style:  "You  wouldn't 
believe  me!" 

Svidrigaylov  says:  "We  are  always  thinking  of 
eternity  as  an  idea  that  cannot  be  understood,  some- 
thing immense.  But  why  must  it  be?  What  if,  in- 
stead of  all  this,  you  suddenly  find  just  a  little  room 
there,  something  like  a  village  bath-house,  grimy, 
and  spiders  in  every  corner,  and  that's  all  eternity 
is  .  .  .1,  you  know,  would  certainly  have  made  it 
so  deliberately."  Part  of  Kipling  would  have  re- 
plied to  this  with  something  denunciatory  and 
biblical,  but  another  part  would  have  blurted 
eagerly,  like  somebody  out  of  Kim:  "Oah  yess,  that 
is  dam-well  likely!  Like  a  dak-bungalow,  you 
know."  It  is  an  idea  that  would  have  occurred  to 
him,  down  to  the  last  deliberately. 

But  still  another  part  of  Kipling  would  suddenly 
have  seen — he  might  even  later  have  written  it 
down,  according  to  the  dictates  of  his  Daemon — a 
story  about  a  boy  who  is  abandoned  in  a  little  room, 
grimy,  with  spiders  in  every  corner,  and  after  a 
while  the  spiders  come  a  little  nearer,  and  a  little 
nearer,  and  one  of  them  is  Father  Spider,  and  one 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  i^y 

of  them  is  Mother  Spider,  and  the  boy  is  their  Baby- 
Spider.  To  Kipling  the  world  was  a  dark  forest  full 
of  families:  so  that  when  your  father  and  mother 
leave  you  in  the  forest  to  die,  the  wolves  that  come 
to  eat  you  are  always  Father  Wolf  and  Mother 
Wolf,  your  real  father  and  real  mother,  and  you 
are — as  not  even  the  little  wolves  ever  quite  are — 
their  real  son.  The  family  romance,  the  two  fami- 
lies of  the  Hero,  have  so  predominant  a  place  in  no 
other  writer.  Kipling  never  said  a  word  or  thought 
a  thought  against  his  parents,  "both  so  entirely  com- 
prehending that  except  in  trivial  matters  we  had 
hardly  need  of  words";  few  writers  have  made 
authority  so  tender,  beautiful,  and  final — have  had 
us  miserable  mortals  serve  better  masters;  but  Kip- 
ling's Daemon  kept  bringing  Kipling  stories  in 
which  wild  animals  turn  out  to  be  the  abandoned 
Mowgli's  real  father  and  mother,  a  heathen  Lama 
turns  out  to  be  the  orphaned  Kim's  real  father — 
and  Kipling  wrote  down  the  stories  and  read  them 
aloud  to  his  father  and  mother. 

This  is  all  very  absurd,  all  very  pathetic?  Oh  yes, 
that's  very  likely;  but,  reader,  down  in  the  darkness 
where  the  wishes  sleep,  snuggled  together  like  bats, 
you  and  I  are  Baby  Spider  too.  If  you  think  this 
absurd  you  should  read  Tolstoy — all  of  Tolstoy. 
But  I  should  remark,  now,  on  something  that  any 
reader  of  Kipling  will  notice:  that  though  he  can 
seem  extraordinarily  penetrating  or  intelligent — 
inspired,  even — he  can  also  seem  very  foolish  or 
very  blind.  This  is  a  characteristic  of  the  immortals 

j  -  o  On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling 

from  which  only  we  mortals  are  free.  They  over- 
say  everything.  It  is  only  ordinary  readers  and 
writers  who  have  ordinary  common  sense,  who  are 
able  to  feel  about  things  what  an  ordinarily  sensible 
man  should.  To  another  age,  of  course,  our  ordi- 
nary common  sense  will  seem  very  very  common 
and  ordinary,  but  not  sense,  exactly:  sense  never 
lasts  for  long;  instead  of  having  created  our  own 
personal  day-dream  or  nightmare,  as  the  immortals 
do,  we  merely  have  consented  to  the  general  day- 
dream or  nightmare  which  our  age  accepted  as 
reality — it  will  seem  to  posterity  only  sense  to  say 
so,  and  it  will  say  so,  before  settling  back  into  a 
common  sense  of  its  own. 

In  the  relations  of  mortals  and  immortals,  yester- 
day's and  today's  posterities,  there  is  a  certain 
pathos  or  absurdity.  There  is  a  certain  absurdity  in 
my  trying  to  persuade  you  to  read  Kipling  sympa- 
thetically— who  are  we  to  read  or  not  read  Kipling 
sympathetically?  part  of  me  grunts.  Writing  about 
just  which  writers  people  are  or  are  not  attracted 
to,  these  years —  who  was  high  in  the  1 9th,  who's 
low  in  the  20th — all  the  other  stock-market  quota- 
tions of  the  centuries,  makes  me  feel  how  much 
such  things  have  to  do  with  history,  and  how  little 
with  literature.  The  stories  themselves  are  litera- 
ture. While  their  taste  is  on  my  tongue,  I  can't  help 
feeling  that  virtue  is  its  own  reward,  that  good  writ- 
ing will  take  care  of  itself.  It  is  a  feeling  I  have  often 
had  after  reading  all  of  an  author:  that  there  it  is.  I 
can  see  that  if  I  don't  write  this  about  the  stories, 

On  Preparing  to  Read  Kipling  1 3  q 

plenty  of  other  writers  will;  that  if  you  don't  read 
the  stories,  plenty  of  other  readers  will.  The  man 
Kipling,  the  myth  Kipling  is  over;  but  the  stories 
themselves — Kipling — have  all  the  time  in  the 
world.  The  stories — some  of  them — can  say  to  us 
with  the  calm  of  anything  that  has  completely 
realized  its  own  nature:  "Worry  about  yourselves, 
not  us.  We're  all  right." 

And  yet,  I'd  be  sorry  to  have  missed  them,  I'd 
be  sorry  for  you  to  miss  them.  I  have  read  one 
more  time  what  I've  read  so  often  before,  and 
have  picked  for  you  what  seem — to  a  loving  and 
inveterate  reader,  one  ashamed  of  their  faults  and 
exalted  by  their  virtues — fifty  of  Kipling's  best 


Story,  the  dictionary  tells  one,  is  a  short  form 
of  the  word  history,  and  stands  for  a  narrative, 
recital,  or  description  of  what  has  occurred;  just  as 
it  stands  for  a  fictitious  narrative,  imaginative  tale; 
Colloq.  a  lie,  a  falsehood. 

A  story,  then,  tells  the  truth  or  a  lie — is  a  wish,  or 
a  truth,  or  a  wish  modified  by  a  truth.  Children  ask 
first  of  all:  "Is  it  a  true  story?"  They  ask  this  of  the 
storyteller,  but  they  ask  of  the  story  what  they  ask 
of  a  dream:  that  it  satisfy  their  wishes.  The  Muses 
are  the  daughters  of  hope  and  the  stepdaughters  of 
memory.  The  wish  is  the  first  truth  about  us,  since 
it  represents  not  that  learned  principle  of  reality 
which  half -governs  our  workaday  hours,  but  the 
primary  principle  of  pleasure  which  governs  in- 
fancy, sleep,  daydreams — and,  certainly,  many 
stories.  Reading  stories,  we  cannot  help  remember- 
ing Groddeck's  "We  have  to  reckon  with  what 
exists,  and  dreams,  daydreams  too,  are  also  facts; 
if  anyone  really  wants  to  investigate  realities,  he 
cannot  do  better  than  to  start  with  such  as  these. 


Stories  141 

If  he  neglects  them,  he  will  learn  little  or  nothing  of 
the  world  of  life."  If  wishes  were  stories,  beggars 
would  read;  if  stories  were  true,  our  saviors  would 
speak  to  us  in  parables.  Much  of  our  knowledge  of, 
our  compensation  for,  "the  world  of  life"  comes 
from  stories;  and  the  stories  themselves  are  part  of 
"the  world  of  life."  Shakespeare  wrote: 

This  is  an  art 

Which  does  mend  nature,  change  it  rather,  but 

The  art  itself  is  nature  .  .  . 
and  Goethe,  agreeing,  said:  "A  work  of  art  is  just 
as  much  a  work  of  nature  as  a  mountain." 

In  showing  that  dreams  sometimes  both  satisfy 
our  wishes  and  punish  us  for  them,  Freud  compares 
the  dreamer  to  the  husband  and  wife  in  the  fairy- 
tale of  The  Three  Wishes:  the  wife  wishes  for  a 
pudding,  the  husband  wishes  it  on  the  end  of  her 
nose,  and  the  wife  wishes  it  away  again.  A  con- 
tradictory family!  But  it  is  this  family — wife,  hus- 
band, and  pudding — which  the  story  must  satisfy: 
the  writer  is,  and  is  writing  for,  a  doubly-  or  triply- 
natured  creature,  whose  needs,  understandings,  and 
ideals — whether  they  are  called  id,  ego,  and  super- 
ego, or  body,  mind,  and  soul — contradict  one 
another.  Most  of  the  stories  that  we  are  willing  to 
call  works  of  art  are  compounds  almost  as  com- 
plicated as  their  creators;  but  occasionally  we  can 
see  isolated,  in  naked  innocence,  one  of  the  ele- 
ments of  which  our  stories  are  composed.  Thomas 
Leaf's  story  (in  Hardy's  Under  the  Greenwood 
Tree)  is  an  example: 

142  Stories 

"Once,"  said  the  delighted  Leaf,  in  an  uncertain 
voice,  "there  was  a  man  who  lived  in  a  house!  Well, 
this  man  went  thinking  and  thinking  night  and  day. 
At  last,  he  said  to  himself,  as  I  might,  'If  I  had  only- 
ten  pound,  I'd  make  a  fortune.'  At  last  by  hook  or  by 
crook,  behold  he  got  the  ten  pounds!" 

"Only  think  of  that!"  said  Nat  Callcome  satirically. 

"Silence!"  said  the  tranter. 

"Well,  now  comes  the  interesting  part  of  the  story! 
in  a  little  time  he  made  that  ten  pounds  twenty.  Then 
a  little  after  that  he  doubled  it,  and  made  it  forty. 
Well,  he  went  on,  and  a  good  while  after  that  he  made 
it  eighty,  and  on  to  a  hundred.  Well,  by-and-by  he 
made  it  two  hundred!  Well,  you'd  never  believe  it,  but 
— he  went  on  and  made  it  four  hundred!  He  went  on, 
and  what  did  he  do?  Why,  he  made  it  eight  hundred! 
Yes,  he  did,"  continued  Leaf,  in  the  highest  pitch  of 
excitement,  bringing  down  his  fist  upon  his  knee,  with 
such  force  that  he  quivered  with  the  pain;  "yes,  and  he 
went  on  and  made  it  a  thousand/" 

"Hear,  hear!"  said  the  tranter.  "Better  than  the  his- 
tory of  England,  my  sonnies!" 

"Thank  you  for  your  story,  Thomas  Leaf,"  said 
grandfather  William;  and  then  Leaf  gradually  sank 
into  nothingness  again. 

Every  day,  in  books,  magazines,  and  newspapers, 
over  radio  and  television,  in  motion-picture  thea- 
ters, we  listen  to  Leaf's  story  one  more  time,  and 
then  sink  into  nothingness  again.  His  story  is,  in  one 
sense,  better  than  the  history  of  England — or 
would  be  if  the  history  of  England  were  not  com- 
posed, among  other  things,  of  Leaf's  story  and  a 
million  like  it.  His  story,  stood  on  its  head,  is  the  old 
woman's  story  in  Wozzeck.  "Grandmother,  tell  us 

Stories  1 43 

a  story,"  beg  the  children.  "All  right,  you  little 
crabs,"  she  answers. 

Once  upon  a  time  there  was  a  poor  little  girl  who 
had  no  father  and  mother  because  everyone  was  dead 
and  there  was  no  one  left  in  the  whole  world.  Every- 
one was  dead,  and  she  kept  looking  for  someone  night 
and  day.  And  since  there  was  no  one  on  earth,  she 
thought  she'd  go  to  heaven.  The  moon  looked  at  her 
so  friendly,  but  when  she  finally  got  to  it,  it  was  just 
a  piece  of  rotted  wood.  So  she  went  on  to  the  sun, 
and  when  she  got  there,  it  was  just  a  dried-up  sun- 
flower. And  when  she  got  to  the  stars,  they  were  just 
little  gold  flies  stuck  up  there  as  if  they'd  been  caught 
in  a  spider  web.  And  when  she  thought  she'd  go  back 
to  earth,  it  was  just  an  upside-down  pot.  And  she  was 
all  alone.  And  so  she  sat  down  and  cried.  And  she's 
still  sitting  there,  all  alone. 

The  grandmother's  story  is  told  less  often — but 
often  enough:  when  we  wake  into  the  reality  our 
dream  has  contradicted,  we  are  bitter  at  returning 
against  our  wishes  to  so  bad  a  world,  and  take  a 
fierce  pleasure  in  what  remains  to  us,  the  demon- 
stration that  it  is  the  worst  of  all  possible  worlds. 
And  we  take  pleasure  also — as  our  stories  show — in 
repeating  over  and  over,  until  we  can  bear  it,  all 
that  we  found  unbearable:  the  child  whose  mother 
left  her  so  often  that  she  invented  a  game  of  throw- 
ing her  doll  out  of  her  crib,  exclaiming  as  it  van- 
ished: "Gone!  gone!"  was  a  true  poet.  "Does  I 
'member  much  about  slavery  times?"  the  old  man 
says,  in  Lay  My  Burden  Doivn;  "well,  there  is  no 
way  for  me  to  disremember  unless  I  die."  But  the 

j  **  Stories 

worst  memories  are  joyful  ones:  "Every  time  Old 
Mistress  thought  we  little  black  children  was  hun- 
gry 'tween  meals  she  would  give  us  johnny  cake  and 
plenty  of  buttermilk  to  drink  with  it.  There  was  a 
long  trough  for  us  they  would  scrub  so  clean.  They 
would  fill  this  trough  with  buttermilk  and  all  us 
children  would  sit  round  the  trough  and  drink  with 
our  mouths  and  hold  our  johnny  cake  with  our 
hands.  I  can  just  see  myself  drinking  now.  It  was  so 
good  .  .  ."  It  is  so  good,  our  stories  believe,  simply 
to  remember:  their  elementary  delight  in  recogni- 
tion, familiarity,  mimesis,  is  another  aspect  of  their 
obsession  with  all  the  likenesses  of  the  universe, 
those  metaphors  that  Proust  called  essential  to  style. 
Stories  want  to  know:  everything  from  the  first 
blaze  and  breathlessness  and  fragrance  to  the  last 
law  and  structure;  but,  too,  stories  don't  want  to 
know,  don't  want  to  care,  just  want  to  do  as  they 
please.  (Some  great  books  are  a  consequence  of  the 
writer's  losing  himself  in  his  subject,  others  are  a 
consequence  of  his  losing  himself  in  himself.  Rabe- 
lais' "do  what  you  please"  is  the  motto  of  how 
many  masterpieces,  from  Cervantes  and  Sterne  on 
up  to  the  present.)  For  stories  vary  from  a  more- 
than-Kantian  disinterestedness,  in  which  the  self  is 
a  representative,  indistinguishable  integer  among 
millions — the  mere  one  or  you  or  man  that  is  the 
subject  of  all  the  verbs — to  an  insensate,  proto- 
plasmic egotism  to  which  the  self  is  the  final  fact,  a 
galaxy  that  it  is  impracticable  to  get  out  of  to  other 
galaxies.  Polarities  like  these  are  almost  the  first 

Stories  1 45 

thing  one  notices  about  fiction.  It  is  as  much 
haunted  by  the  chaos  which  precedes  and  succeeds 
order  as  by  order;  by  the  incongruities  of  the  uni- 
verse (wit,  humor,  the  arbitrary,  accidental,  and 
absurd — all  irruptions  from,  releases  of,  the  uncon- 
scious) as  by  its  likenesses.  A  story  may  present 
fantasy  as  fact,  as  the  sin  or  hubris  that  the  fact  of 
things  punishes,  or  as  a  reality  superior  to  fact.  And, 
often,  it  presents  it  as  a  mixture  of  the  three:  all 
opposites  meet  in  fiction. 

The  truths  that  he  systematized,  Freud  said,  had 
already  been  discovered  by  the  poets;  the  tears  of 
things,  the  truth  of  things,  are  there  in  their  fictions. 
And  yet,  as  he  knew,  the  root  of  all  stories  is  in 
Grimm,  not  in  La  Rochefoucauld;  in  dreams,  not 
in  cameras  and  tape  recorders.  Turgenev  was  right 
when  he  said,  "Truth  alone,  however  powerful,  is 
not  art" — oxygen  alone,  however  concentrated,  is 
not  water;  and  Freud  was  right,  profoundly  right, 
when  he  showed  "that  the  dream  is  a  compromise 
between  the  expression  of  and  the  defence  against 
the  unconscious  emotions;  that  in  it  the  unconscious 
wish  is  represented  as  being  fulfilled;  that  there  are 
very  definite  mechanisms  that  control  this  expres- 
sion; that  the  primary  process  controls  the  dream 
world  just  as  it  controls  the  entire  unconscious 
life  of  the  soul,  and  that  myth  and  poetical  pro- 
ductions come  into  being  in  the  same  way  and  have 
the  same  meaning.  There  is  only  one  important  dif- 
ference: in  the  myths  and  in  the  works  of  poets  the 
secondary  elaboration  is  much  further  developed, 

!4<5  Stories 

so  that  a  logical  and  coherent  entity  is  created."  It 
is  hard  to  exaggerate  the  importance  of  this  differ- 
ence, of  course;  yet  usually  we  do  exaggerate  it — 
do  write  as  if  that  one  great  difference  had  hidden 
from  us  the  greater  similarities  which  underlie  it. 


A  baby  asleep  but  about  to  be  waked  by  hunger 
sometimes  makes  little  sucking  motions:  he  is 
dreaming  that  he  is  being  fed,  and  manages  by  vir- 
tue of  the  dream  to  stay  asleep.  He  may  even  smile 
a  little  in  satisfaction.  But  the  smile  cannot  last  for 
long — the  dream  fails,  and  he  wakes.  This  is,  in  a 
sense,  the  first  story;  the  child  in  his  "impotent 
omnipotence' '  is  like  us  readers,  us  writers,  in  ours. 

A  story  is  a  chain  of  events.  Since  the  stories 
that  we  know  are  told  by  men,  the  events  of  the 
story  happen  to  human  or  anthropomorphic  beings 
— gods,  beasts,  and  devils,  and  are  related  in  such  a 
way  that  the  story  seems  to  begin  at  one  place  and 
to  end  at  a  very  different  place,  without  any  essen- 
tial interruption  to  its  progress.  The  poet  or  story- 
teller, so  to  speak,  writes  numbers  on  a  blackboard, 
draws  a  line  under  them,  and  adds  them  into  their 
true  but  unsuspected  sum.  Stories,  because  of  their 
nature  or — it  is  to  say  the  same  thing — of  ours,  are 
always  capable  of  generalization:  a  story  about  a 
dog  Kashtanka  is  true  for  all  values  of  dogs  and 

Stories  can  be  as  short  as  a  sentence.  Bion's  say- 

Stories  j  aj 

ing,  The  boys  throiv  stones  at  the  frogs  in  sport, 
but  the  frogs  die  not  in  sport  but  in  earnest,  is  a 
story;  and  when  one  finds  it  in  Aesop,  blown  up 
into  a  fable  Rve  or  six  sentences  long,  it  has  become 
a  poorer  story.  Blake's  Prudence  is  a  rich,  ugly  old 
maid  courted  by  Incapacity  has  a  story  inside  it, 
waiting  to  flower  in  a  glass  of  water.  And  there  is 
a  story  four  sentences  long  that  not  even  Rilke  was 
able  to  improve:  Now  King  David  was  old  and 
stricken  in  years;  and  they  covered  him  with 
clothes,  but  he  got  no  heat.  Wherefore  his  servants 
said  unto  him,  Let  there  be  sought  for  my  lord  the 
king  a  young  virgin:  and  let  her  stand  before  the 
king,  and  let  her  cherish  him,  and  let  her  lie  in  thy 
bosom,  that  my  lord  the  king  may  get  heat.  So  they 
sought  for  a  fair  damsel  throughout  all  the  coasts 
of  Israel,  and  found  Abishag  a  Shunamite,  and 
brought  her  to  the  king.  And  the  damsel  was  very 
fair,  and  cherished  the  king,  and  ministered  to  him: 
but  the  king  knew  her  not.  .  .  .  The  enlisted  men 
at  Fort  Benning  buried  their  dog  Calculus  under  a 
marker  that  read:  He  made  better  dogs  of  us  all; 
and  a  few  days  ago  I  read  in  the  paper:  A  Sunday- 
school  teacher,  mother  of  four  children,  shot  to 
death  her  eight-year-old  daughter  as  she  slept  to- 
day, state  police  reported.  Hilda  Kristle,  43,  of 
Stony  Run,  told  police  that  her  youngest  daughter, 
Suzanne,  uhad  a  heavy  heart  and  often  went  about 
the  house  sighing." 

When  we  try  to  make,  out  of  these  stories  life 
gives  us,  works  of  art  of  comparable  concision, 

0  Stories 

we  almost  always  put  them  into  verse.  Blake  writes 

about  a  chimney  sweep: 

A  little  black  thing  among  the  snow 
Crying  "  'weep!  'weep!"  in  notes  of  woe! 
"Where  are  thy  father  &  mother,  say?" 
"They  are  both  gone  up  to  the  church  to  pray. 

"Because  I  was  happy  upon  the  heath, 
And  smiVd  among  the  winter's  snow 
They  clothed  me  in  the  clothes  of  death, 
And  taught  me  to  sing  the  notes  of  woe. 

"And  because  I  am  happy  &  dance  &  sing, 
They  think  they  have  done  me  no  injury, 
And  are  gone  to  praise  God  &  his  Priest  &  King, 
Who  make  up  a  Heaven  of  our  misery—" 

and  he  has  written  enough.  Stephen  Crane  says  in 
fifty  words: 

In  the  desert 

1  saw  a  creature  naked,  bestial, 
Who,  squatting  upon  the  ground, 
Held  his  heart  in  his  hands 

And  ate  of  it. 

I  said,  "Is  it  good,  friend?" 

"It  is  bitter— bitter,"  he  answered; 

"But  I  like  it 

Because  it  is  bitter 

And  because  it  is  my  heart." 

These  are  the  bones  of  stories,  and  we  shiver  at 
them.  The  poems  one  selects  for  a  book  of  stories 
have  more  of  the  flesh  of  ordinary  fiction.  A  truly 
representative  book  of  stories  would  include  a  great 
many  poems:  during  much  of  the  past  people  put 


Stories  1 49 

into  verse  the  stories  that  they  intended  to  be  litera- 

But  it  is  hard  to  put  together  any  representative 
collection  of  stories.  It  is  like  starting  a  zoo  in  a 
closet:  the  giraffe  alone  takes  up  more  space  than 
one  has  for  the  collection.  Remembrance  of  Things 
Past  is  a  story,  just  as  Saint-Simon's  memoirs  are  a 
great  many  stories.  One  can  represent  the  memoirs 
with  the  death  of  Monseigneur,  but  not  even  the 
death  of  Bergotte,  the  death  of  the  narrator's  grand- 
mother, can  do  that  for  Remembrance  of  Things 
Past.  Almost  everything  in  the  world,  one  realizes 
after  a  while,  is  too  long  to  go  into  a  short  book  of 
stories — a  book  of  short  stories.  So,  even,  are  all 
those  indeterminate  masterpieces  that  the  nine- 
teenth century  called  short  stories  and  that  we  call 
short  novels  or  novelettes:  Tolstoy's  The  Death  of 
Ivan  llyich,  Hadji  Murad,  Master  and  Man;  Flau- 
bert's A  Simple  Heart;  Mann's  Death  in  Venice; 
Leskov's  The  Lady  Macbeth  of  the  Mzinsk  Dis- 
trict; Keller's  The  Three  Righteous  Comb-Makers; 
James's  The  Aspern  Papers;  Colette's  Julie  de  Car- 
neilhan;  Kleist's  Michael  Kohlhaas;  Joyce's  The 
Dead;  Turgenev's  A  Lear  of  the  Steppes;  Hofmann- 
sthal's  Andreas;  Kafka's  Metamorphosis;  Faulk- 
ner's Spotted  Horses;  Porter's  Old  Mortality; 
Dostoievsky's  The  Eternal  Husband;  Melville's 
Bartleby  the  Scrivener,  Benito  Cereno;  Chekhov's 
Ward  No.  6,  A  Dreary  Story,  Peasants,  In  the 

And  there  are  many  more  sorts  of  stories  than 

j  -0  Stories 

there  are  sizes.  Epics;  ballads;  historical  or  bio- 
graphical or  autobiographical  narratives,  letters, 
diaries;  myths,  fairy  tales,  fables;  dreams,  day- 
dreams; humorous  or  indecent  or  religious  anec- 
dotes; all  those  stories  which  might  be  called  spe- 
cialized or  special  case — science  fiction,  ghost 
stories,  detective  stories,  Westerns,  True  Confes- 
sions, children's  stories,  and  the  rest;  and,  finally, 
"serious  fiction" — Proust  and  Chekhov  and  Kafka, 
Moby-Dick,  Great  Expectations,  A  Sportsman's 
Notebook.  What  I  myself  selected  for  a  book  of 
stories  was  most  of  it  "serious  fiction,"  some  of 
it  serious  fiction  in  verse;  but  there  was  a  letter  of 
Tolstoy's,  a  piece  of  history  and  autobiography 
from  Saint-Simon;  and  there  were  gipsy  and  Ger- 
man fairy  tales,  Hebrew  and  Chinese  parables,  and 
two  episodes  from  the  journal  of  an  imaginary 
Danish  poet,  the  other  self  of  the  poet  Rainer  Maria 
Rilke.  There  are  so  many  good  short  narratives  of 
every  kind  that  a  book  of  three  or  four  hundred 
pages  leaves  almost  all  of  their  writers  unrepre- 
sented. By  saying  that  I  was  saving  these  writers 
for  a  second  and  third  book  I  tried  to  make  myself 
feel  better  at  having  left  them  out  of  the  first.  For  I 
left  out  all  sagas,  all  ballads,  all  myths;  a  dozen  great 
narrators  in  verse,  from  Homer  to  Rilke;  Herodo- 
tus, Plutarch,  Pushkin,  Hawthorne,  Flaubert,  Do- 
stoievsky, Melville,  James,  Leskov,  Keller,  Kipling, 
Mann,  Faulkner — I  cannot  bear  to  go  on.  Several 
of  these  had  written  long  narratives  so  much  better 
than  any  of  their  short  ones  that  it  seemed  unfair 

Stories  I  r  i 

to  use  the  short,  and  it  was  impossible  to  use  the 
long.  Hemingway  I  could  not  get  permission  to  re- 
print. Any  anthology  is,  as  the  dictionary  says,  a 
bouquet — a  bouquet  that  leaves  out  most  of  the 
world's  flowers. 

My  own  bunch  is  named  The  Anchor  Book  of 
Stories,  and  consists  of  Franz  Kafka's  A  Country 
Doctor;  Anton  Chekhov's  Gusev;  Rainer  Maria 
Rilke's  The  Wrecked  Houses  and  The  Big  Thing 
(from  The  Notebooks  of  Make  Laurids  Brigge)-, 
Robert  Frost's  The  Witch  of  Coos;  Giovanni  Ver- 
ga's  La  Lupa;  Nicolai  Gogol's  The  Nose;  Elizabeth 
Bowen's  Her  Table  Spread;  Ludwig  Tieck's  Fair 
Eckbert;  Bertolt  Brecht's  Concerning  the  Infanti- 
cide Marie  Farrar;  Lev  Tolstoy's  The  Three  Her- 
mits; Peter  Taylor's  What  You  Hear  from  'Em?; 
Hans  Christian  Andersen's  The  Fir  Tree;  Katharine 
Anne  Porter's  He;  a  Gipsy's  The  Red  King  and  the 
Witch;  Anton  Chekhov's  Rothschild's  Fiddle;  the 
Brothers  Grimm's  Cat  and  Mouse  in  Partnership; 
E.  M.  Forster's  The  Story  of  the  Siren;  The  Book 
of  Jonah;  Franz  Kafka's  The  Bucket-Rider;  Saint- 
Simon's  The  Death  of  Monseigneur;  Isaac  Babel's 
Awakening;  five  anecdotes  by  Chuang  T'zu;  Hugo 
von  Hofmannsthal's  A  Tale  of  the  Cavalry;  Wil- 
liam Blake's  The  Mental  Traveller;  D.  H.  Law- 
rence's Samson  and  Delilah;  Lev  Tolstoy's  The 
Porcelain  Doll;  Ivan  Turgenev's  Byezhin  Prairie; 
William  Wordsworth's  The  Ruined  Cottage;  Frank 
O'Connor's  Peasants;  and  Isak  Dinesen's  Sorrow- 


I  disliked  leaving  out  writers,  but  I  disliked  al- 
most as  much  having  to  leave  out  some  additional 
stories  by  some  of  the  writers  I  included.  I  used  so 
many  of  the  writers  who  "came  out  of  Gogol's 
Overcoat"  that  The  Overcoat  was  in  a  sense  already 
there,  but  I  wished  that  it  and  Old-World  Land- 
owners had  been  there  in  every  sense;  that  I  could 
have  included  Chekhov's  The  Bishop,  The  Lady 
with  the  Dog,  Gooseberries,  The  Darling,  The 
Man  in  a  Shell,  The  Kiss,  The  Witch,  On  Official 
Business,  and  how  many  more;  that  I  could  have 
included  Kafka's  The  Penal  Colony  and  The 
Hunter  Gracchus;  and  that  I  could  have  included  at 
least  a  story  more  from  Lawrence,  Tolstoy,  Verga, 
Grimm,  and  Andersen.  With  Turgenev's  master- 
piece all  selection  fails:  A  Sportsman's  Notebook  is 
a  whole  greater  and  more  endearing  than  even  the 
best  of  its  parts. 


There  are  all  kinds  of  beings,  and  all  kinds  of 
things  happen  to  them;  and  when  you  add  to  these 
what  are  as  essential  to  the  writer,  the  things  that 
don't  actually  happen,  the  beings  that  don't  actually 
exist,  it  is  no  wonder  that  stories  are  as  varied  as 
they  are.  But  it  seems  to  me  that  there  are  two 
extremes:  stories  in  which  nothing  happens,  and  sto- 
ries in  which  everything  is  a  happening.  The  Muse 
of  fiction  believes  that  people  "don't  go  to  the 
North  Pole"  but  go  to  work,  go  home,  get  mar- 

Stories  I  r  ^ 

ried,  die;  but  she  believes  at  the  same  time  that  ab- 
solutely anything  can  occur — concludes,  with  Go- 
gol: "Say  what  you  like,  but  such  things  do  happen 
— not  often,  but  they  do  happen."  Our  lives,  even 
our  stories,  approach  at  one  extreme  the  lives  of 
Prior's  Jack  and  Joan: 

//  human  things  went  111  or  Well; 

If  changing  Empires  rose  or  fell; 

The  Morning  past,  the  Evening  came, 

And  found  this  couple  still  the  same. 

They  Walked  and  Eat,  good  folks:  What  then? 

Why  then  they  Walked  and  Eat  again: 

They  soundly  slept  the  Night  away: 

They  did  just  Nothing  all  the  day  .  .  . 

Nor  Good,  nor  Bad,  nor  Fools,  nor  Wise; 

They  wotfd  not  learn,  nor  cou!d  advise: 

Without  Love,  Hatred,  Joy,  or  Fear, 

They  led — a  kind  of — as  it  were; 

Nor  WisWd,  nor  Cafd,  nor  Laugh' d,  nor  Cry'd: 

And  so  They  liv'd;  and  so  They  dy'd. 

Billions  have  lived,  and  left  not  even  a  name  be- 
hind, and  while  they  were  alive  nobody  knew  their 
names  either.  These  live  out  their  lives  "among  the 
rocks  and  winding  scars/  Where  deep  and  low  the 
hamlets  lie/  Each  with  its  little  patch  of  sky/  And 
little  lot  of  stars";  soundly  sleep  the  Night  away  in 
the  old  houses  of  Oblomov's  native  village,  where 
everybody  did  just  Nothing  all  the  day;  rise — in 
Gogol's  Akaky  Akakyevich  Bashmachkin,  in  the 
Old-World  Landowners,  to  a  quite  biblical  pathos 
and  grandeur;  are  relatives  of  that  Darling,  that 
dushechka,  who  for  so  many  solitary  years  "had 



no  opinions  of  any  sort.  She  saw  the  objects  about 
her  and  understood  what  she  saw,  but  could  not 
form  any  opinion  about  them";  sit  and,  "musing 
with  close  lips  and  lifted  eyes/  Have  smiled  with 
self-contempt  to  live  so  wise/  And  run  so  smoothly 
such  a  length  of  lies";  walk  slowly,  staring  about 
them— or  else  just  walk— through  the  pages  of 
Turgenev,  Sterne,  Keller,  Rabelais,  Twain,  Cer- 
vantes, and  how  many  others;  and  in  Chuang  T'zu 
disappear  into  the  mists  of  time,  looming  before  us 
in  primordial  grandeur:  "In  the  days  of  Ho  Hsu 
the  people  did  nothing  in  particular  when  at  rest, 
and  went  nowhere  in  particular  when  they  moved. 
Having  food,  they  rejoiced;  having  full  bellies,  they 
strolled  about.  Such  were  the  capacities  of  the  peo- 

How  different  from  the  later  times,  the  other 
pages,  in  which  people  "wear  the  hairs  off  their 
legs"  "counting  the  grains  of  rice  for  a  rice-pud- 
ding"! How  different  from  the  other  extreme:  the 
world  of  Svidrigaylov,  Raskolnikov,  Stavrogin, 
where  everything  that  occurs  is  either  a  dream  told 
as  if  it  were  reality,  or  reality  told  as  if  it  were  a 
dream,  and  where  the  story  is  charged  up  to  the 
point  at  which  the  lightning  blazes  out  in  some 
nightmare,  revelation,  atrocity,  and  the  drained  nar- 
rative can  begin  to  charge  itself  again.  In  this  world, 
and  in  the  world  of  The  Devil,  The  Kreutzer  So- 
nata, The  Death  of  Ivan  Ilyich,  everything  is  the 
preparation  for,  or  consummation  of,  an  Event; 
everyone  is  an  echo  of  "the  prehistoric,  unforget- 

Stories  I  r  r 

table  Other  One,  who  is  never  equalled  by  anyone 
later."  This  is  the  world  of  Hofmannsthal's  A  Tale 
of  the  Cavalry,  where  even  the  cow  being  dragged 
to  the  shambles,  "shrinking  from  the  smell  of  blood 
and  the  fresh  hide  of  a  calf  nailed  to  the  doorpost, 
planted  its  hooves  firm  on  the  ground,  drew  the 
reddish  haze  of  the  sunset  in  through  dilated  nos- 
trils, and,  before  the  lad  could  drag  her  across  the 
road  with  stick  and  rope,  tore  away  with  piteous 
eyes  a  mouthful  of  the  hay  which  the  sergeant  had 
tied  on  the  front  of  his  saddle."  It  is  the  world  of 
Nijinsky's  diary:  "One  evening  I  went  for  a  walk 
up  the  hill,  and  stopped  on  the  mountain  .  .  .  'the 
mountain  of  Sinai.'  I  was  cold.  I  had  walked  far. 
Feeling  that  I  should  kneel,  I  quickly  knelt  and  then 
felt  that  I  should  put  my  hand  in  the  snow.  After 
doing  this,  I  suddenly  felt  a  pain  and  cried  with  it, 
pulling  my  hand  away.  I  looked  at  a  star,  which  did 
not  say  good  evening  to  me.  It  did  not  twinkle  at 
me.  I  got  frightened  and  wanted  to  run,  but  could 
not  because  my  knees  were  rooted  to  the  snow.  I 
started  to  cry,  but  no  one  heard  my  weeping.  No 
one  came  to  my  rescue.  After  several  minutes  I 
turned  and  saw  a  house.  It  was  closed  and  the  win- 
dows shuttered  ...  I  felt  frightened  and  shouted 
at  the  top  of  my  voice:  'Death!'  I  did  not  know 
why,  but  felt  that  one  must  shout  'Death!'  After 
that  I  felt  warmer  ...  I  walked  on  the  snow 
which  crunched  beneath  my  feet.  I  liked  the  snow 
and  listened  to  its  crunching.  I  loved  listening  to 
my  footsteps;  they  were  full  of  life.  Looking  at 

Ij6  Stories 

the  sky,  I  saw  the  stars  which  were  twinkling  at 
me  and  felt  merriment  in  them.  I  was  happy  and  no 
longer  felt  cold  ...  I  started  to  go  down  a  dark 
road,  walking  quickly,  but  was  stopped  by  a  tree 
which  saved  me.  I  was  on  the  edge  of  a  precipice. 
I  thanked  the  tree.  It  felt  me  because  I  caught  hold 
of  it;  it  received  my  warmth  and  I  received  the 
warmth  of  the  tree.  I  do  not  know  who  most 
needed  the  warmth.  I  walked  on  and  suddenly 
stopped,  seeing  a  precipice  without  a  tree.  I  under- 
stood that  God  had  stopped  me  because  He  loves 
me,  and  therefore  said:  'If  it  is  thy  will,  I  will  fall 
down  the  precipice.  If  it  is  thy  will,  I  will  be  saved.' ' 
This  is  what  I  would  call  pure  narrative;  one 
must  go  to  writers  like  Tolstoy  and  Rilke  and 
Kafka  to  equal  it.  In  the  unfinished  stories  of  Kaf- 
ka's notebook,  some  fragment  a  page  long  can 
carry  us  over  a  whole  abyss  of  events:  "I  was  sitting 
in  the  box,  and  beside  me  was  my  wife.  The  play 
being  performed  was  an  exciting  one,  it  was  about 
jealousy;  at  that  moment  in  the  midst  of  a  brilliantly 
lit  hall  surrounded  by  pillars,  a  man  was  just  raising 
his  dagger  against  his  wife,  who  was  slowly  retreat- 
ing to  the  exit.  Tense,  we  leaned  forward  together 
over  the  balustrade;  I  felt  my  wife's  curls  against 
my  temples.  Then  we  started  back,  for  something 
moved  on  the  balustrade;  what  we  had  taken  for 
the  plush  upholstery  of  the  balustrade  was  the  back 
of  a  tall  thin  man,  not  an  inch  broader  than  the 
balustrade,  who  had  been  lying  flat  on  his  face  there 
and  was  now  slowly  turning  over  as  though  trying 

Stories  I  r  y 

to  find  a  more  comfortable  position.  Trembling, 
my  wife  clung  to  me.  His  face  was  quite  close  to 
me,  narrower  than  my  hand,  meticulously  clean  as 
that  of  a  waxwork  figure,  and  with  a  pointed  black 
beard.  'Why  do  you  come  and  frighten  us?'  I  ex- 
claimed. 'What  are  you  up  to  here?'  'Excuse  me!' 
the  man  said,  'I  am  an  admirer  of  your  wife's.  To 
feel  her  elbows  on  my  body  makes  me  happy.' 
'Emil,  I  implore  you,  protect  me!'  my  wife  ex- 
claimed. 'I  too  am  called  Emil,'  the  man  said,  sup- 
porting his  head  on  one  hand  and  lying  there  as 
though  on  a  sofa.  'Come  to  me,  dear  sweet  little 
woman.'  'You  cad,'  I  said,  'another  word  and  you'll 
find  yourself  lying  down  there  in  the  pit,'  and  as 
though  certain  that  this  word  was  bound  to  come, 
I  tried  to  push  him  over,  but  it  was  not  so  easy,  he 
seemed  to  be  a  solid  part  of  the  balustrade,  it  was 
as  though  he  were  built  into  it,  I  tried  to  roll 
him  off,  but  I  couldn't  do  it,  he  only  laughed  and 
said:  'Stop  that,  you  silly  little  man,  don't  wear  out 
your  strength  prematurely,  the  struggle  is  only  be- 
ginning and  it  will  end,  as  may  well  be  said,  with 
your  wife's  granting  my  desire.'  'Never!'  my  wife 
exclaimed,  and  then,  turning  to  me:  'Oh,  please,  do 
push  him  down  now.'  'I  can't,'  I  exclaimed,  'you  can 
see  for  yourself  how  I'm  straining,  but  there's  some 
trickery  in  it,  it  can't  be  done.'  'Oh  dear,  oh  dear,' 
my  wife  lamented,  'what  is  to  become  of  me?' 
'Keep  calm,'  I  said,  'I  beg  of  you.  By  getting  so 
worked  up  you're  only  making  it  worse,  I  have  an- 
other plan  now,  I  shall  cut  the  plush  open  here  with 

o  Stories 

my  knife  and  then  drop  the  whole  thing  down  and 
the  fellow  with  it.'  But  now  I  could  not  find  my 
knife.  'Don't  you  know  where  I  have  my  knife?'  I 
asked.  'Can  I  have  left  it  in  my  overcoat?'  I  was 
almost  going  to  dash  along  to  the  cloakroom  when 
my  wife  brought  me  to  my  senses.  'Surely  you're 
not  going  to  leave  me  alone  now,  Emil,'  she  cried. 
'But  if  I  have  no  knife,'  I  shouted  back.  'Take  mine,' 
she  said  and  began  fumbling  in  her  little  bag,  with 
trembling  fingers,  but  then  of  course  all  she  pro- 
duced was  a  tiny  little  mother-of-pearl  knife." 

One  of  the  things  that  make  Kafka  so  marvel- 
lous a  writer  is  his  discovery  of — or,  rather,  dis- 
covery by — a  kind  of  narrative  in  which  logical 
analysis  and  humor,  the  greatest  enemies  of  narra- 
tive movement,  have  themselves  become  part  of  the 
movement.  In  narrative  at  its  purest  or  most  event- 
ful we  do  not  understand  but  are  the  narrative. 
When  we  understand  completely  (or  laugh  com- 
pletely, or  feel  completely  a  lyric  empathy  with  the 
beings  of  the  world),  the  carrying  force  of  the  nar- 
rative is  dissipated:  in  fiction,  to  understand  every- 
thing is  to  get  nowhere.  Yet,  walking  through  Com- 
bray  with  Proust,  lying  under  the  leaves  with 
Turgenev  and  the  dwarf  Kasyan,  who  has  ever 
wanted  to  get  anywhere  but  where  he  already  is,  in 
the  best  of  all  possible  places? 

In  stories-in-which-everything-is-a-happening 
each  event  is  charged  and  about  to  be  further 
charged,  so  that  the  narrative  may  at  any  moment 
reach  a  point  of  unbearable  significance,  and  disin- 
tegrate into  energy.  In  stories-in-which-nothing- 

Stories  159 

happens  even  the  climax  or  denouement  is  liable  to 
lose  what  charge  it  has,  and  to  become  simply  one 
more  portion  of  the  lyric,  humorous,  or  contempla- 
tive continuum  of  the  story:  in  Gogol's  The  Nose 
the  policeman  seizes  the  barber,  the  barber  turns 
pale,  "but  here  the  incident  is  completely  shrouded 
in  a  fog  and  absolutely  nothing  is  known  of  what 
happened  next";  and  in  Nevsky  Avenue,  after 
Schiller,  Hoffman,  and  Kuntz  the  carpenter  have 
stripped  Lieutenant  Pirogov  and  "treated  him  with 
such  an  utter  lack  of  ceremony  that  I  cannot  find 
words  to  describe  this  highly  regrettable  incident," 
Pirogov  goes  raging  away,  and  "nothing  could 
compare  with  Pirogov's  anger  and  indignation. 
Siberia  and  the  lash  seemed  to  him  the  least  punish- 
ment Schiller  deserved  .  .  .  But  the  whole  thing 
somehow  petered  out  most  strangely:  on  the  way 
to  the  general,  he  went  into  a  pastry-cook's,  ate  two 
pastries,  read  something  out  of  the  Northern  Bee, 
and  left  with  his  anger  somewhat  abated";  took  a 
stroll  along  Nevsky  Avenue;  and  ended  at  a  party 
given  by  one  of  the  directors  of  the  Auditing  Board, 
where  he  "so  distinguished  himself  in  the  mazurka 
that  not  only  the  ladies  but  also  the  gentlemen  were 
in  raptures  over  it.  What  a  wonderful  world  we 
live  in!" 

One  of  these  extremes  of  narrative  will  remind 
us  of  the  state  of  minimum  excitation  which  the 
organism  tries  to  re-establish — of  the  baby  asleep, 
a  lyric  smile  on  his  lips;  the  other  extreme  resembles 
the  processes  of  continually  increased  excitation 
found  in  sex  and  play. 

The  Woman 
at  the  Washington  Zoo 

Critics    fairly    often  write   essays  about 
how  some  poem  was  written;  the  poet  who 
wrote  it  seldom  does.  When  Robert  Venn  Warren 
and  Cleanth  Brooks  were  making  a  new  edition  of 
Understanding  Poetry,  they  asked  several  poets  to 
write  such  essays.  I  no  longer  remembered  much 
about  writing  The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo 
— a  poem  is,  so  to  speak,  a  way  of  making  you  for- 
get how  you  wrote  it — but  I  had  almost  all  the 
sheets  of  paper  on  which  it  was  written,  starting 
with  a  paper  napkin  from  the  Methodist  Cafeteria. 
If  you  had  asked  me  where  1  had  begun  the  poem 
Vd  have  said:  "Why,  Sir,  at  the  beginning";  it  was 
a  surprise  to  me  to  see  that  I  hadn't. 

As  I  read,  arranged,  and  remembered  the  pages 
it  all  came  back  to  me.  I  went  over  them  for  sev- 
eral days,  copying  down  most  of  the  lines  and 
phrases  and  mentioning  some  of  the  sights  and  cir- 
cumstances they  came  out  of;  1  tried  to  give  a  fairly 

1 60 

The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo  1 5 1 

good  idea  of  the  objective  process  of  writing  the 
poem.  You  may  say,  "But  isn't  a  poem  a  kind  of 
subjective  process,  like  a  dream?  Doesn't  it  come 
out  of  unconscious  wishes  of  yours,  childhood 
memories,  parts  of  your  own  private  emotional 
life?"  It  certainly  does:  part  of  them  I  don't  know 
about  and  the  rest  1  didn't  write  about.  Nor  did  1 
write  about  or  copy  down  something  that  begins 
to  appear  on  the  last  two  or  three  pages:  lines  and 
phrases  from  a  kind  of  counter-poem,  named  Je- 
rome, in  which  St.  Jerome  is  a  psychoanalyst  and 
his  lion  is  at  the  zoo. 

If  after  reading  this  essay  the  reader  should  say: 
"You  did  all  that  you  could  to  the  things,  but  the 
things  just  came,"  he  would  feel  about  it  as  I  do. 

Late  in  the  summer  of  1956  my  wife  and  I  moved 
to  Washington.  We  lived  with  two  daughters,  a  cat, 
and  a  dog,  in  Chevy  Chase;  every  day  I  would  drive 
to  work  through  Rock  Creek  Park,  past  the  zoo. 
I  worked  across  the  street  from  the  Capitol,  at 
the  Library  of  Congress.  I  knew  Washington  fairly 
well,  but  had  never  lived  there;  I  had  been  in  the 
army,  but  except  for  that  had  never  worked  for 
the  government. 

Some  of  the  new  and  some  of  the  old  things 
there — I  was  often  reminded  of  the  army — had  a 
good  deal  of  effect  on  me:  after  a  few  weeks  I  be- 
gan to  write  a  poem.  I  have  most  of  what  I  wrote, 
though  the  first  page  is  gone;  the  earliest  lines  are 

£  2  The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo 

any  color 
My  print,  that  has  clung  to  its  old  colors 
Through  many  washings;  this  dull  null 
Navy  1  wear  to  work,  and  wear  from  work,  and  so 
And  so  to  bed-        To  bed 
With  no  complaint,  no  comment— neither  from  my. 


The  Deputy  Chief  Assistant,  from  his  chief, 
Nor  nor 

Jhmtt-Congressmen,^rem*their  constituents — 

Only  I  complain;  this  few-worn  serviceable  .  .  . 

The  woman  talking  is  a  near  relation  of  women 
I  was  seeing  there  in  Washington — some  at  close 
range,  at  the  Library — and  a  distant  relation  of 
women  I  had  written  about  before,  in  "The  End 
of  the  Rainbow"  and  "Cinderella"  and  "Seele  im 
Raum."  She  is  a  kind  of  aging  machine-part.  I 
wrote,  as  they  say  in  suits,  "acting  as  next  friend"; 
I  had  for  her  the  sympathy  of  an  aging  machine- 
part.  (If  I  was  also  something  else,  that  was  just 
personal;  and  she  also  was  something  else.)  I  felt 
that  one  of  these  hundreds  of  thousands  of  govern- 
ment clerks  might  feel  all  her  dresses  one  dress,  a 
faded  navy  blue  print,  and  that  dress  her  body.  This 
work-  or  life-uniform  of  hers  excites  neither  com- 
plaint, nor  comment,  nor  the  mechanically  protec- 
tive No  comment  of  the  civil  servant;  excites  them 
neither  from  her  "chief,"  the  Deputy  Chief  Assist- 
ant, nor  from  his,  nor  from  any  being  on  any  level 
of  that  many-leveled  machine:   all  the  system  is 

The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo  1 5  3 

silent,  except  for  her  own  cry,  which  goes  un- 
noticed just  as  she  herself  goes  unnoticed.  (I  had 
met  a  Deputy  Chief  Assistant,  who  saw  nothing 
remarkable  in  the  title.)  The  woman's  days  seem 
to  her  the  going-up-to-work  and  coming-down- 
from-work  of  a  worker;  each  ends  in  And  so  to 
bed,  the  diarist's  conclusive  unvarying  entry  in 
the  daybook  of  his  life. 

These  abruptly  opening  lines  are  full  of  duplica- 
tions and  echoes,  like  what  they  describe.  And  they 
are  wrong  in  the  way  in  which  beginnings  are 
wrong:  either  there  is  too  much  of  something  or  it 
is  not  yet  there.  The  lines  break  off  with  this  worn 
serviceable — the  words  can  apply  either  to  her 
dress  or  to  her  body,  but  anything  so  obviously 
suitable  to  the  dress  must  be  intended  for  the  body. 
Body  that  no  sunlight  dyes,  no  hand  suffuses,  the 
page  written  the  next  day  goes  on;  then  after  a 
space  there  is  Dome-shadowed,  withering  among 
columns,/  Wavy  upon  the  pools  of  fountains,  small 
beside  statues  .  .  .  No  sun  colors,  no  hand  suf- 
fuses with  its  touch,  this  used,  still-useful  body.  It  is 
subdued  to  the  element  it  works  in:  is  shadowed  by 
the  domes,  grows  old  and  small  and  dry  among  the 
columns,  of  the  buildings  of  the  capital;  becomes 
a  reflection,  its  material  identity  lost,  upon  the 
pools  of  the  fountains  of  the  capital;  is  dwarfed  be- 
side the  statues  of  the  capital — as  year  by  year  it 
passes  among  the  public  places  of  this  city  of  space 
and  trees  and  light,  city  sinking  beneath  the  weight 
of  its  marble,  city  of  graded  voteless  workers. 

j  £ *  The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo 

The  word  small,  as  it  joins  the  reflections  in  the 
pools,  the  trips  to  the  public  places,  brings  the  poem 
to  its  real  place  and  subject — to  its  title,  even: 
next  there  is  small  and  shining,  then  (with  the  star 
beside  it  that  means  use,  don't  lose)  small,  jar-off, 
shining  in  the  eyes  of  animals;  the  woman  ends  at 
the  zoo,  looking  so  intently  into  its  cages  that  she 
sees  her  own  reflection  in  the  eyes  of  animals,  these 
wild  ones  trapped/  As  1  am  trapped  but  not,  them- 
selves, the  trap  .  .  .  The  lines  have  written  above 
them  The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo. 

The  next  page  has  the  title  and  twelve  lines: 

This  print,  that  has  kept  the  memory  of  color 
Alive  through  many  cleanings;  this  dull  null 
Navy  I  wear  to  work,  and  wear  from  work,  and  so 
To  bed  {with  no  complaints,  no  comment:  neither 

from  my  chief, 
The  Deputy  Chief  Assistant,  nor  her  chief, 
Nor  his,  nor  Congressmen,  nor  their  constituents 

— Only  I  complain);   this  plain,   worn,   serviceable 

Body  that  no  sunset  dyes,  no  hand  suffuses 
But,  dome-shadowed,  withering  among  columns, 
Wavy  beneath  fountains — small,  far-off,  shining 

In  the  eyes  of  animals,  these  beings  trapped 
As  I  am  trapped  but  not,  themselves,  the  trap  .  .  . 

Written  underneath  this,  in  the  rapid,  ugly,  disor- 
ganized handwriting  of  most  of  the  pages,  is  bars  of 
my  body  burst  blood  breath  breathing — lives  aging 
but  without  knowledge  of  age  /  Waiting  in  their 
safe  prisons  for  death,  knowing  not  of  death;  im- 

The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo  1 65 

mediately  this  is  changed  into  two  lines,  Aging,  but 
without  knowledge  of  their  age,/  Kept  safe  here, 
knowing  not  of  death,  for  death — and  out  at  the 
side,  scrawled  heavily,  is:  O  bars  of  my  own  body, 
open,  open!  She  recognizes  herself  in  the  animals — 
and  recognizes  herself,  also,  in  the  cages. 

Written  across  the  top  of  this  page  is  2nd  and  3rd 
alphabet.  Streets  in  Washington  run  through  a  one- 
syllable,  a  two-syllable,  and  a  three-syllable  (Al- 
bemarle, Brandywine,  Chesapeake  .  .  .)  alphabet, 
so  that  people  say  about  an  address:  "Let's  see,  that's 
in  the  second  alphabet,  isn't  it?"  It  made  me  think 
of  Kronecker's,  "God  made  the  integers,  all  else  is 
the  work  of  man";  but  it  seemed  right  for  Wash- 
ington to  have  alphabets  of  its  own — I  made  up  the 
title  of  a  detective  story,  Murder  in  the  Second 
Alphabet.  The  alphabets  were  a  piece  of  Washing- 
ton that  should  have  fitted  into  the  poem,  but 
didn't;  but  the  zoo  was  a  whole  group  of  pieces, 
a  little  Washington,  into  which  the  poem  itself 

Rock  Creek  Park,  with  its  miles  of  heavily 
wooded  hills  and  valleys,  its  rocky  stream,  is  like 
some  National  Forest  dropped  into  Washington  by 
mistake.  Many  of  the  animals  of  the  zoo  are  in 
unroofed  cages  back  in  its  ravines.  My  wife  and  I 
had  often  visited  the  zoo,  and  now  that  we  were 
living  in  Washington  we  went  to  it  a  great  deal. 
We  had  made  friends  with  a  lynx  that  was  very 
like  our  cat  that  had  died  the  spring  before,  at  the 
age  of  sixteen.  We  would  feed  the  lynx  pieces  of 
liver  or  scraps  of  chicken  and  turkey;  we  fed  liver, 

j  fifi  The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo 

sometimes,  to  two  enormous  white  timber  wolves 
that  lived  at  the  end  of  one  ravine.  Eager  for  the 
meat,  they  would  stand  up  against  the  bars  on  their 
hind  legs,  taller  than  a  man,  and  stare  into  our  eyes; 
they  reminded  me  of  Akela,  white  with  age,  in  the 
Jungle  Books,  and  of  the  wolves  who  fawn  at  the 
man  Mowgli's  brown  feet  in  In  the  Rukh.  In  one 
of  the  buildings  of  the  zoo  there  was  a  lioness  with 
two  big  cubs;  when  the  keeper  came  she  would 
come  over,  purring  her  bass  purr,  to  rub  her  head 
against  the  bars  almost  as  our  lynx  would  rub  his 
head  against  the  turkey-skin,  in  rapture,  before  he 
finally  gulped  it  down.  In  the  lions'  building  there 
were  two  black  leopards;  when  you  got  close  to 
them  you  saw  they  had  not  lost  the  spots  of  the 
ordinary  leopards — were  the  ordinary  leopards,  but 
spotted  black  on  black,  dingy  somehow. 

On  the  way  to  the  wolves  one  went  by  a  big 
unroofed  cage  of  foxes  curled  up  asleep;  on  the  con- 
crete floor  of  the  enclosure  there  would  be  scat- 
tered two  or  three  white  rats — stiff,  quite  un- 
touched— that  the  foxes  had  left.  (The  wolves  left 
their  meat,  too — big  slabs  of  horse-meat,  glazing, 
covered  with  flies.)  Twice  when  I  came  to  the 
foxes'  cage  there  was  a  turkey-buzzard  that  had 
come  down  for  the  rats;  startled  at  me,  he  flapped 
up  heavily,  with  a  rat  dangling  underneath.  (There 
are  usually  vultures  circling  over  the  zoo;  nearby, 
at  the  tennis  courts  of  the  Sheraton-Park,  I  used  to 
see  vultures  perched  on  the  tower  of  WTTG, 
above  the  court  on  which  Defense  Secretary  McEl- 

The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo  I  fij 

roy  was  playing  doubles — so  that  I  would  say  to 
myself,  like  Peer  Gynt:  "Nature  is  witty.")  As  a 
child,  coming  around  the  bend  of  a  country  road, 
I  had  often  seen  a  turkey-buzzard,  with  its  black 
wings  and  naked  red  head,  flap  heavily  up  from  the 
mashed  body  of  a  skunk  or  possum  or  rabbit. 

A  good  deal  of  this  writes  itself  on  the  next  page, 
almost  too  rapidly  for  line-endings  or  punctuation: 
to  be  and  never  know  I  am  when  the  vulture  buz- 
zard comes  for  the  white  rat  that  the  foxes  left  May 
he  take  off  his  black  wings,  the  red  flesh  of  his  head, 
and  step  to  me  as  man — a  man  at  whose  brown 
feet  the  white  wolves  fawn — to  whose  hand  of 
power  /  The  lioness  stalks,  leaving  her  cubs  play- 
ing /  and  rubs  her  head  along  the  bars  as  he  strokes 
it.  Along  the  side  of  the  page,  between  these  lines, 
two  or  three  words  to  a  line,  is  written  the  animals 
who  are  trapped  but  are  not  themselves  the  trap 
black  leopards  spots,  light  and  darkened,  hidden 
except  to  the  close  eyes  of  love,  in  their  life-long 
darkness,  so  I  in  decent  black,  navy  blue. 

As  soon  as  the  zoo  came  into  the  poem,  every- 
thing else  settled  into  it  and  was  at  home  there;  on 
this  page  it  is  plain  even  to  the  writer  that  all  the 
things  in  the  poem  come  out  of,  and  are  divided 
between,  color  and  colorlessness.  Colored  women 
and  colored  animals  and  colored  cloth — all  that 
the  woman  sees  as  her  own  opposite — come  into 
the  poem  to  begin  it.  Beside  the  typed  lines  are  many 
hurried  phrases,  most  of  them  crossed  out:  red  and 
yellow  as  October  maples   rosy,  blood  seen  through 

j  ^  o  The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo 

flesh  in  summer  colors  wild  and  easy  natural  leaf- 
yellow  cloud-rose  leopard-yellow,  cloth  from  an- 
other planet  the  leopards  look  back  at  their  wearers, 
hue  jor  hue  the  women  look  back  at  the  leopard. 
And  on  the  back  of  the  vulture's  page  there  is  a 
flight  of  ideas,  almost  a  daydream,  coming  out  of 
these  last  phrases:  we  have  never  mistaken  you  for 
the  others  among  the  legations  one  of  a  different 
architecture  women,  saris  of  a  different  color  envoy 
impassive  clear  bullet-proof  glass  lips,  through  the 
clear  glass  of  a  rose  sedan  color  of  blood  you  too 
are  represented  on  this  earth  .  .  . 

One  often  sees  on  the  streets  of  Washington — 
fairly  often  sees  at  the  zoo — what  seem  beings  of 
a  different  species:  women  from  the  embassies  of 
India  and  Pakistan,  their  sallow  skin  and  black  hair 
leopard-like,  their  yellow  or  rose  or  green  saris  ex- 
actly as  one  imagines  the  robes  of  Greek  statues 
before  the  statues  had  lost  their  colors.  It  was  easy 
for  me  to  see  the  saris  as  cloth  from  another  planet 
or  satellite;  I  have  written  about  a  sick  child  who 
wants  "a  ship  from  some  near  star/  To  land  in  the 
yard  and  beings  to  come  out/  And  think  to  me:  'So 
this  is  where  you  are!'  "  and  about  an  old  man  who 
says  that  it  is  his  ambition  to  be  the  pet  of  visitors 
from  another  planet;  as  an  old  reader  of  science 
fiction,  I  am  used  to  looking  at  the  sun  red  over  the 
hills,  the  moon  white  over  the  ocean,  and  saying  to 
my  wife  in  a  sober  voice:  "It's  like  another  planet." 
After  I  had  worked  a  little  longer,  the  poem  began 
as  it  begins  now: 

The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo  1 69 

The  saris  go  by  me  from  the  embassies. 

Cloth  from  the  moon.  Cloth  from  another  planet. 
They  look  back  at  the  leopard  like  the  leopard. 

And  I  .  .  .  This  print  of  mine,  that  has  kept  its  color 

Alive  through  so  many  cleanings;  this  dull  null 

Navy  I  wear  to  work,  and  wear  from  work,  and  so 

To  my  bed,  so  to  my  grave,  with  no 

Complaints,  no  comment:  neither  from  my  chief, 

The  Deputy  Chief  Assistant,  nor  his  chief — 

Only  I  complain;  this  serviceable 

Body  that  no  sunlight  dyes,  no  hand  suffuses 

But,  dome-shadowed,  withering  among  columns, 

Wavy  beneath  fountains — small,  far-off,  shining 

In  the  eyes  of  animals,  these  beings  trapped 

As  I  am  trapped  but  not,  themselves,  the  trap, 

Aging,  but  without  knowledge  of  their  age, 

Kept  safe  here,  knowing  not  of  death,  for  death 

— Oh,  bars  of  my  own  body,  open,  open! 

It  is  almost  as  if,  once  all  the  materials  of  the 
poem  were  there,  the  middle  and  end  of  the  poem 
made  themselves,  as  the  beginning  seemed  to  make 
itself.  After  the  imperative  open,  open!  there  is  a 
space,  and  the  middle  of  the  poem  begins  evenly — 
since  her  despair  is  beyond  expression — in  a  state- 
ment of  accomplished  fact:  The  world  goes  by  my 
cage  and  never  sees  me.  Inside  the  mechanical  offi- 
cial cage  of  her  life,  her  body,  she  lives  invisibly; 
no  one  feeds  this  animal,  reads  out  its  name,  pokes 
a  stick  through  the  bars  at  it — the  cage  is  empty. 
She  feels  that  she  is  even  worse  off  than  the  other 
animals  of  the  zoo:  they  are  still  wild  animals — 

j  -  0  The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo 

since  they  do  not  know  how  to  change  into  do- 
mesticated animals,  beings  that  are  their  own  cages 
— and  they  are  surrounded  by  a  world  that  does 
not  know  how  to  surrender  them,  still  thinks  them 
part  of  itself.  This  natural  world  comes  through  or 
over  the  bars  of  the  cages,  on  its  continual  visits 
to  those  within:  to  those  who  are  not  machine- 
parts,  convicts  behind  the  bars  of  their  penitentiary, 
but  wild  animals — the  free  beasts  come  to  their  im- 
prisoned brothers  and  never  know  that  they  are  not 
also  free.  Written  on  the  back  of  one  page,  crossed 
out,  is  Come  still,  you  free;  on  the  next  page  this 

The  world  goes  by  my  cage  and  never  sees  me. 

And  there  come  not  to  me,  as  come  to  these, 

The  wild  ones  beasts,  sparrows  pecking  the  llamas' 

Pigeons  fluttering  to  settling  on  the  bears'  bread, 

turkey -buzzards 
Coming  with  grace  first,  then  with  horror  •  Culture 
Tearing  the  meat  the  flies  have  clouded  .  .  . 

In  saying  mournfully  that  the  wild  animals  do 
not  come  to  her  as  they  come  to  the  animals  of  the 
zoo,  she  is  wishing  for  their  human  equivalent  to 
come  to  her.  But  she  is  right  in  believing  that  she 
has  become  her  own  cage — she  has  changed  so 
much,  in  her  manless,  childless,  fleshless  existence, 
that  her  longing  wish  has  inside  it  an  increasing  re- 
pugnance and  horror:  the  innocent  sparrows  peck- 
ing the  llamas'  grain  become  larger  in  the  pigeons 

The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo  I  y  I 

settling  on  (not  -fluttering  to)  the  bears'  bread; 
and  these  grow  larger  and  larger,  come  (with 
grace  first,  far  off  in  the  sky,  but  at  last  with  hor- 
ror) as  turkey-buzzards  seizing,  no,  tearing  the 
meat  the  flies  have  clouded.  She  herself  is  that  stale 
left-over  flesh,  nauseating  just  as  what  comes  to  it 
is  horrible  and  nauseating.  The  series  pecking,  set- 
tling on,  and  tearing  has  inside  it  a  sexual  metaphor: 
the  stale  flesh  that  no  one  would  have  is  taken  at 
last  by  the  turkey-buzzard  with  his  naked  red  neck 
and  head. 

Her  own  life  is  so  terrible  to  her  that,  to  change, 
she  is  willing  to  accept  even  this,  changing  it  as  best 
she  can.  She  says:  Vulture  [it  is  a  euphemism  that 
gives  him  distance  and  solemnity],  when  you  come 
for  the  white  rat  that  the  foxes  left  [to  her  the  rat 
is  so  plainly  herself  that  she  does  not  need  to  say 
so;  the  small,  white,  untouched  thing  is  more  ac- 
curately what  she  is  than  was  the  clouded  meat — 
but,  also,  it  is  euphemistic,  more  nearly  bearable], 
take  off  the  red  helmet  of  your  head  [the  bestiality, 
the  obscene  sexuality  of  the  flesh-eating  death-bird 
is  really — she  hopes  or  pretends  or  desperately  is 
sure — merely  external,  clothes,  an  intentionally- 
frightening  war-garment  like  a  Greek  or  Roman 
helmet],  the  black  wings  that  have  shadowed  me 
[she  feels  that  their  inhuman  colorless  darkness  has 
always,  like  the  domes  of  the  inhuman  city,  shad- 
owed her;  the  wings  are  like  a  black  parody  of  the 
wings  the  Swan  Brothers  wear  in  the  fairy  tale,  just 
as  the  whole  costume  is  like  that  of  the  Frog  Prince 

1^2  The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo 

or  the  other  beast-princes  of  the  stories]  and  step 
[as  a  human  being,  not  fly  as  an  animal]  to  me  as 
[what  you  really  are  under  the  disguising  clothing 
of  red  flesh  and  black  feathers]  man — not  the  ma- 
chine-part, the  domesticated  animal  that  is  its  own 
cage,  but  man  as  he  was  first,  still  must  be,  is:  the 
animals,  natural  lord, 

The  wild  brother  at  whose  feet  the  white  wolves  fawn, 
To  whose  hand  of  power  the  great  lioness 
Stalks,  purring  .  .  . 

And  she  ends  the  poem  when  she  says  to  him: 

You  know  what  I  was, 

You  see  what  I  am:  change  me,  change  me! 

Here  is  the  whole  poem: 


The  saris  go  by  me  from  the  embassies. 

Cloth  from  the  moon.  Cloth  from  another  planet. 
They  look  back  at  the  leopard  like  the  leopard. 

And  I  .  .  . 

This  print  of  mine,  that  has  kept  its  color 
Alive  through  so  many  cleanings;  this  dull  null 
Navy  I  wear  to  work,  and  wear  from  work,  and  so 
To  my  bed,  so  to  my  grave,  with  no 
Complaints,  no  comment:  neither  from  my  chief, 
The  Deputy  Chief  Assistant,  nor  his  chief — 
Only  I  complain;  this  serviceable 
Body  that  no  sunlight  dyes,  no  hand  suffuses 
But,  dome-shadowed,  withering  among  columns, 
Wavy  beneath  fountains — small,  far-off,  shining 

The  Woman  at  the  Washington  Zoo  \  y  3 

In  the  eyes  of  animals,  these  beings  trapped 
As  I  am  trapped  but  not,  themselves,  the  trap, 
Aging,  but  without  knowledge  of  their  age, 
Kept  safe  here,  knowing  not  of  death,  for  death 
— Oh,  bars  of  my  own  body,  open,  open! 

The  world  goes  by  my  cage  and  never  sees  me. 
And  there  come  not  to  me,  as  come  to  these, 
The  wild  beasts,  sparrows  pecking  the  llamas'  grain, 
Pigeons  settling  on  the  bears'  bread,  buzzards 
Tearing  the  meat  the  flies  have  clouded  .  .  . 

When  you  come  for  the  white  rat  that  the  foxes  left, 
Take  off  the  red  helmet  of  your  head,  the  black 
Wings  that  have  shadowed  me,  and  step  to  me  as  man, 
The  wild  brother  at  whose  feet  the  white  wolves  fawn, 
To  whose  hand  of  power  the  great  lioness 
Stalks,  purring  .  .  . 

You  know  what  1  was, 
You  see  what  1  am:  change  me,  change  me! 

Malraux  and  the  Statues 
at  Bamberg 

It  i  s  no  use  to  tell  you  to  read  The  Voices  of 
Silence:  if  you  care  for  art  and  know  how  to 
read,  you  have  read  it  or  will  read  it.  And  if  you 
don't  care  for  art  but  know  about  it  instead,  and 
have  spent  your  life  stopping  up  the  holes  in  your 
dressing-gown  with  the  canvases  of  the  universe — 
even  then  you  will  read  it,  so  as  to  be  able  to  call 
Malraux  a  phrase-making  amateur  standing  on  the 
shoulders  of  better  art-historians.  And  if  you  say 
this,  there  will  be  something  in  what  you  say. 
Malraux  does  stand  head  and  shoulders  above  most 
writers  on  art,  though  I  doubt  that  he  gets  this 
way  simply  by  basing  himself  on  them;  he  is  an 
amateur — he  speaks  with  all  of  the  exaggeration  of 
love  and  some  of  its  errors;  and  he  makes  phrases 
as  naturally  as — or  rather,  considerably  more  natu- 
rally than — he  breathes.  (His  last  breath  is  going  to 
be  drawn  in  the  Pantheon,  under  the  subjugated 
eyes  of  Academicians,  and  his  earlier  breaths  have 
been  changed  by  knowing  this.) 


Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg  175 

Malraux's  book  is  a  long,  lyrical,  aphoristic,  ora- 
torical, wonderfully  illustrated  Discourse  on  the 
Arts  of  this  Earth,  with  space  for  Celtic  coins,  Van 
Meegeren's  Vermeers,  any  artist  who  ever  was, 
fairy  tales,  religions,  a  history  of  taste,  the  draw- 
ings of  the  insane,  best-sellers,  the  influence  of  Tin- 
toretto on  cameramen:  it  is  a  kind  of  (very  ele- 
vated) Flea-Market  of  the  Absolute,  with  room 
even  for  a  remark  about  paintings  at  the  Flea-Mar- 
ket. Malraux's  intelligence,  imagination,  and  origi- 
nality manifest  themselves  as  much  in  his  choice  of 
subjects  as  in  what  he  has  to  say.  His  work  is  not 
art  history,  exactly,  but  a  kind  of  free  fantasia  on 
themes  from  the  history  of  art — still,  a  successful 
enough  confusion  of  genres  is  a  new  genre,  and 
Malraux's  book,  which  now  stands  solitary  as  Alice, 
will  probably  have  some  dreadful  descendants. 

It  is  certainly  one  of  the  most  interesting  books 
ever  written:  Malraux  writes  a  passage  of  ordinary 
exposition  so  that  we  breathe  irregularly  and  jerk 
our  heads  from  side  to  side,  like  spectators  at  a  ten- 
nis match.  He  conducts  an  argument  (and  he  can't 
even  tell  you  that  Art  isn't  Photography  without 
having  a  fearful  and  dazzling  argument  that  leaves 
you  sorry  you  ever  thought  it  was)  as  other  peo- 
ple conduct  a  campaign,  and  his  pages  are  full  of 
speeches  to  the  soldiers,  of  epigrams  and  aphorisms 
and  passages  of  more-than-Tyrian  purple,  of  Te 
Deums,  of  straw-men  with  their  bowels  all  over 
the  countryside:  it  is  as  if  we  were  getting  to  see 
a  Massacre  of  the  Innocents  begun  by  Uccello,  con- 

I  y  5  Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg 

eluded  by  Caravaggio,  and  preserved  for  us,  I  do 
not  need  to  say  miraculously,  in  an  armory  of 
the  Knights  of  Malta. 

Malraux  tells  us  hundreds  of  times  that  the  artist 
"masters"  the  world,  "conquers"  his  material,  "de- 
stroys" the  works  of  the  predecessors  he  admires; 
art  is  a  "victory"  over  reality,  the  work  of  art 
"subjugates"  its  spectator:  the  root  metaphor  un- 
derlying Malraux's  view  of  art  is  one  of  conquest, 
of  victory,  power,  domination.  (One  feels:  how 
all  the  animals  do  order  each  other  around! )  Char- 
din's  "seeming  humility"  is  said  to  involve  the  mod- 
el's "destruction";  Malraux  says  in  a  typical  sen- 
tence: "That  eternal  youngness  of  mornings  in  the 
Ile-de-France  and  that  shimmer — like  the  long, 
murmurous  cadences  of  the  Odyssey — in  the 
Provencal  air  cannot  be  imitated;  they  must  be  con- 
quered." Conquered!  The  sentence  is  worthy  of 
Cortez,  of  Pizarro,  of  those  lunatics  who  used  to 
think  themselves  Napoleon.  How  do  you  "con- 
quer" a  shimmer  in  the  air,  the  youngness  of  morn- 
ing? We  do  not  know  how  to  go  about  it;  most  of 
us  do  not  even  know  how  to  want  to  go  about  it. 
Such  things  cannot  be  imitated,  Malraux  is  right; 
they  must  be  translated.  The  artist  translates,  finds 
an  equivalent  for,  makes  a  painting  or  poem  or  piece 
of  music  that  has,  that  shimmer — and,  often,  in  the 
purity  of  separation,  the  youngness  seems  to  us 
younger,  the  shimmer  more  shimmering.  Art 
matches  the  world  idiom  for  idiom;  the  work  of  art 
is  not  a  conquest  of  the  things  of  the  world  but 

Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg  177 

their  apotheosis.  Really  Malraux  knows  this:  as  he 
says,  the  buffalo  in  some  Cro-Magnon  cave  is  not 
a  different  buffalo  but  more  buffalo— the  buffalo  of 
the  world  is  not  subjugated  beneath  it,  conquered 
by  it,  but  realized  in  it.* 

This  man  who  writes  so  wonderfully  of  Piero 
della  Francesca,  Latour,  Vermeer,  of  men  who 
would  have  thought  the  word  conquest  a  profana- 
tion, cannot  think  of  the  natural  world  except  as 
raw  material  ready  for  the  processing  that  is  our 
victory  and  its  defeat.  For  Malraux,  at  bottom,  the 
world  is  a  war;  and  anyone  who  writes  about  The 
Voices  of  Silence,  responding  to  this,  will  tend  to 
make  his  praise  warm  and  general  and  his  blame 
cold  and  specific.  The  book  is,  some  of  the  time, 
a  marvellous  evocation  and  appreciation  of  the 
works  of  art  it  reproduces;  the  rest  of  the  time  it 
is  an  argument,  a  fight,  and  we  fight  back.  We  are 
willing  to  forgive  most  things  to  a  writer  who  cares 
this  much  for  painting  and  sculpture,  and  catches 
us  up  in  his  caring;  but  the  life  and  manners  of  this 
truly  vivacious  book  are  too  contagious,  we  forget 
all  about  forgiving,  make  what  speeches  we  can  to 
what  troops  we  have,  gnaw  our  moustaches,  and 
get  out  our  French  dictionaries  so  as  to  denounce 
Malraux  in  the  style  to  which  he  is  accustomed. 

Malraux's    passion,    violence,    energy    seem    as 

*  What  I  had  remembered  Malraux  as  saying  is  quite  differ- 
ent from  what  he  actually  says:  "If  the  Magdalenian  bison  is 
more  than  a  sign  and  also  more  than  a  piece  of  illusionist  real- 
ism — if,  in  short,  it  is  a  bison  other  than  the  real  bison— is  this 
merely  due  to  chance?" 

I  j  8  Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg 

genuine  as  they  are  habitual,  though  the  form  in 
which  they  are  expressed  and  the  emotions  by  which 
they  are  accompanied  are  often  stock.  I  once  vis- 
ited a  pottery  where  all  the  dogs  and  cats  were 
named  after  characters  in  the  Ring,  and  where  all 
the  shapes  of  the  pots,  as  the  potter  told  me,  "had 
authority."  All  Malraux's  sentences  "have  au- 
thority/' but  only  his  more  timid  or  less  informed 
readers  are  likely  to  remain  submissive  beneath  it: 
Malraux  writes  in  a  language  in  which  there  is  no 
way  to  say  "perhaps"  or  "I  don't  know,"  so  that 
after  a  while  we  grow  accustomed  to  saying  it  for 
him.  But  we  need  to  say  it  less  often  than  would  be 
supposed:  how  many  men  have  written  about  art 
with  better  taste,  with  more  intelligence,  with  a 
keener  sympathy,  with  a  more  extraordinary  scope 
and  grasp  and  intensity,  and  have  alloyed  these  with 
a  rhetoric  so  grandiose,  sentiments  so  convention- 
ally theatrical,  and  an  obsession  with  power  so  radi- 
cal, that  a  book  of  theirs  can  seem  to  us  a  miracle 
which  we  partly  dislike? 

When  Malraux  wants  to  assert  a  proposition 
about  which  he,  alone  among  mortals,  feels  no 
doubts,  he  prefaces  it  with — and  I  combine  two  of 
his  favorite  introductory  remarks — "who  can 
fail  to  see  that,  regardless  of  what  everybody 
says  .  .  ."  But  ordinarily  he  proves  his  proposi- 
tions. He  says,  for  instance,  that  "the  ill-success  of 
The  Night  Watch  was  inevitable,"  and  goes  on  to 
show  us  why  it  was  inevitable.  He  is  completely 
successful:  when  we  have  finished  his  paragraphs 

Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg  i  j  9 

we  can  see  that  the  painting  had  to  be  disliked.  If 
we  happen  to  have  learned  that  as  a  matter  of  fact 
it  was  greatly  liked,  and  that  its  failure  is  a  poetically 
just  myth,  we  are  troubled  to  see  Malraux's  method 
so  powerful.  The  connections  of  European  art  with 
Christianity  are  more  enlightening,  if  less  surprising, 
than  its  connections  with  double-entry  bookkeep- 
ing, so  that  Malraux's  semi-religious  determin- 
ism is  a  good  deal  better  than  the  economic  deter- 
minism which  tells  us  that  Masaccio's  outlines  are 
as  firm  as  they  are  because  the  financial  position  of 
the  rising  middle  class  was  as  sound  as  it  was.  But 
both  methods  have  the  same  fault:  they  are  too 
powerful.  By  using  either  we  can  show  just  why 
everything  necessarily  was  what  we  already  know 
it  to  have  been — and  we  can  often,  in  the  process, 
distort  (or  neglect  to  see  closely  enough  or  dis- 
interestedly enough)  what  everything  was. 

We  say  with  a  sigh:  "The  ways  of  God  are  in- 
scrutable." To  the  critic  of  art  the  ways  of  art  are 
inevitable,  and  he  explains  with  a  smile  why  every- 
thing had  to  happen  as  it  did.  (He  can  explain  it 
only  after  it  happens,  not  before — but,  everything 
has  its  limitations.  In  everyday  life,  a  crude  sphere, 
we  call  someone  whose  explanations  have  these 
limitations  a  Monday  morning  quarterback.)  The 
critic  of  art  often  does  all  that  he  can  to  make  the 
ways  of  art  inevitable,  saying  without  any  smile: 
"Certainly  no  representational  painting  of  the  first 
importance  could  be  produced  now;  certainly  no 
diatonic  composition  of  the  first  importance  could 

1 8  O  Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg 

be  produced  now"  Schonberg  said  that  there  were 
a  great  many  good  pieces  still  to  be  composed  in  the 
key  of  C  Major,  and  his  sentence  is  as  inspiring  to 
me,  as  a  human  being,  as  is  Cromwell's:  "I  beseech 
you,  in  the  bowels  of  Christ,  believe  that  you  may 
be  mistaken!" 

What  I  am  saying  is  very  obvious,  and  if  anything 
is  obvious  enough  it  seems  almost  to  give  us  the 
right  to  ignore  it.  Analysts  of  society  or  art  regu- 
larly neglect  what  is,  for  the  parts  of  it  their  ex- 
planation is  able  to  take  account  of,  and  then  go 
on  the  assumption  that  their  explanation  is  all  that 
there  is.  (If  the  methods  of  some  discipline  deal 
only  with,  say,  what  is  quantitatively  measurable, 
and  something  is  not  quantitatively  measurable, 
then  the  thing  does  not  exist  for  that  discipline — 
after  a  while  the  lower  right  hand  corner  of  the 
inscription  gets  broken  off,  and  it  reads  does  not 
exist.)  But  if  someone  has  a  good  enough  eye  for 
an  explanation  he  finally  sees  nothing  inexplicable, 
and  can  begin  every  sentence  with  that  phrase  dear- 
est to  all  who  professionally  understand:  It  is  no 
accident  that  .  .  .  We  should  love  explanations 
well,  but  the  truth  better;  and  often  the  truth  is 
that  there  is  no  explanation,  that  so  far  as  we  know 
it  is  an  accident  that  .  .  .  The  motto  of  the  city 
of  Hamburg  is:  Navigare  nee  esse  est,  vivere  no 
necesse.  A  critic  might  say  to  himself:  for  me  to 
know  what  the  work  of  art  is,  is  necessary;  for  me 
to  explain  why  it  is  what  it  is,  is  not  always  neces- 
sary nor  always  possible. 

Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg  1 8 1 

Let  me  illustrate  all  this  by  examining  Malraux's 
treatment  of  six  statues,  three  at  Rheims  and  three 
at  Bamberg.  He  writes  that  at  Rheims  the  art  of 
antiquity,  of  the  smile,  of  "smoothly  modeled 
planes,  of  supple  garments  and  gestures,"  was  at 
last  able  to  be  resuscitated,  in  order  "to  voice  the 
concord  between  man  and  what  transcends  him, 
the  last  act  of  the  Incarnation."  He  reminds  the 
reader  that  "there  are  classical  precedents  for  the 
way  the  Master  of  the  Visitation  treated  drapery," 
persuades  him  (unnecessarily,  but  in  sensitive  and 
beautiful  detail)  that  the  Virgin  is  Gothic,  not 
classical,  and  finishes  by  explaining  why  the  sculptor 
was  able  to  make  the  Mary  and  Elizabeth  of  this 
Visitation  what  they  are:  "When  man  had  made 
his  peace  with  God  and  once  again  order  reigned 
in  the  world,  the  sculptors  found  in  the  art  of  an- 
tiquity a  means  of  expression  ready  to  hand.  If 
we  turn  east  to  Bamberg,  where  this  reconciliation 
was  less  complete,  we  find  that  its  Virgin  gives  an 
impression  of  being  much  earlier  than  the  Rheims 
Virgin,  from  which,  nevertheless,  it  derived.  Gaz- 
ing with  eyes  still  misted  with  fears  of  hell,  above 
that  miraculously  apt  fracture  which  makes  her 
face  the  very  effigy  of  Gothic  death,  the  St.  Eliza- 
beth of  Bamberg  seems  to  contemplate  her  'proto- 
type' of  Rheims  across  an  abyss  of  time." 

This  last  sentence  may  itself  seem  to  us  a  work 
of  art;  certainly  we  seem  to  ourselves  to  feel  more, 
to  understand  better,  now  that  the  weights  and  re- 
lations of  these  things  have  been  shown  to  us,  un- 


j  g  2  Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg 

derstood  for  us.  But  if  we  look  at  the  Bamberg 
and  Rheims  Visitations,  the  Bamberg  Rider  and  its 
"prototype"  at  Rheims,  and  read  what  is  known 
about  the  circumstances  of  their  making,  we  find 
that  Malraux  has  understood  for  us  too  swiftly  and 
too  well:  some  of  his  facts  are  not  facts  at  all,  and 
— what  matters  far  more — some  of  his  feeling  for, 
his  seeing  of,  these  statues  has  been  distorted  by  his 
understanding  of  them,  by  the  thesis  to  which  the 
statues  have  been  required  to  testify. 

Certainly  Bamberg  was  influenced  by  Rheims; 
but  the  Bamberg  Visitation  often  is  dated  before 
the  Rheims  Visitation — which  was  the  prototype? 
That  the  Rheims  Virgin  and  St.  Elizabeth  look  just 
as  they  look  doesn't  puzzle  Malraux,  but  it  puzzles 
everyone  else:  sober  art-historians  sound  like  writ- 
ers of  detective-stories  as  they  try  to  account  for  it. 
Morey  says,  for  instance:  "It  is  not  impossible  that 
a  German  sculptor,  schooled  in  the  early  atelier  of 
Rheims,  returned  to  work  at  Bamberg,  and  later 
joined  the  eclectic  group  which  finished  the  facade 
of  Rheims  cathedral.  This  would  explain  the  Teu- 
tonic Mary  and  Elizabeth  of  the  Visitation  at 
Rheims,  and  the  general  identity  of  style  of  the 
Elizabeth  in  this  group  with  the  Elizabeth  of  an- 
other Visitation  in  the  ambulatory  at  Bamberg." 
It  would  explain  it — unless  we  look  at  the  statues. 
The  three  Bamberg  statues  which  have  "proto- 
types" at  Rheims — the  Virgin,  the  St.  Elizabeth, 
and  the  Rider — are  a  family  of  masterpieces,  as  like 
as  sister,  mother,  and  brother;  the  Rheims  Virgin, 

Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg  !  8  3 

St.  Elizabeth,  and  Philip  Augustus  vary  from  sub- 
limity to  pure  commonplace.  Philip  (purse- 
lipped,  tremulous-lidded,  his  face  closed  uncer- 
tainly, almost  pedantically,  about  the  cares  of 
power)  looks  as  though  he  were  dreaming  that  he  is 
the  other,  that  Rider  who — profound,  ambiguous, 
weighing,  full  of  a  strength  touching  in  its  delicacy 
and  forbearance,  of  an  innate,  almost  awkward  ele- 
gance— looks  out  with  eyes  more  considering,  more 
deeply  set,  more  widely  set  than  other  eyes,  so  that 
we  see  in  him  one  of  the  great  expressions  of  man's 
possibility,  of  that  grace  which  comes  upon  him  too 
naturally  for  him  to  be  aware  either  of  its  source 
or  of  its  presence. 

The  Rheims  St.  Elizabeth  is,  as  Malraux  would 
say,  a  Stoic's  mother  that  has  somehow  found  a 
soul,  a  quiet,  sad,  beautiful  statue  which  we  forget 
as  we  look  at  the  Bamberg  St.  Elizabeth.  Her  eyes 
are  misted  neither  by  "fears  of  hell"  nor  by  any- 
thing else — here  Malraux's  taste,  his  mere  ability  to 
see,  have  been  debauched  by  his  theory — but  are 
calmer  and  less  changing  than  the  stone  in  which 
they  are  carved.  Man's  ability  to  bear  and  disregard 
— to  look  out  into,  to  look  out  past,  anything  in  his 
world — has  been  expressed  as  well  in  a  few  other 
works  of  art,  but  never,  I  think,  better:  she  seems 
to  look  out  into  that  Being  which  has  cancelled  out 
the  Becoming  which  the  Rider  looks  into  and  is. 

But  the  two  Virgins  are  most  puzzling  of  all,  if 
we  want  to  explain  them:  how  can  one  masterpiece 
be  derived  from  another  that  contradicts  it?  The 

j  g  .  Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg 

Virgin  of  Rheims'  humanity,  which  Malraux  de- 
scribes so  beautifully,  is  too  wonderful  for  us  to  be 
willing  to  compare  her  unfavorably  with  anything, 
yet  the  Virgin  of  Bamberg's  inhumanity  (if  a  Fate 
can  be  called  inhuman)  is  almost  as  wonderful: 
her  reserved,  brooding,  slightly  too  full  young  face, 
with  the  future  held  uneasily  in  its  fullness,  is  like 
the  first  premonition  of  one  of  Michelangelo's 
sib  vis ;  as  we  look  at  the  curve  of  this  body  at  once 
extended  to  us  and  withdrawn  from  us,  at  the  grave, 
dimpled,  half -archaic  smile  of  a  troubling  and  un- 
understandable  benediction,  we  feel  more  than  ever 
the  inscrutability  of  God's  ways  and  our  own. 

Do  the  Rheims  figures  look  as  they  look,  do  the 
Bamberg  figures  look  as  they  look,  because  at  one 
place  the  "reconciliation"  of  God  and  man  was 
"less  complete"?  While  we  read  Malraux,  we  un- 
derstand; while  we  look  at  the  statues  we  do  not 
understand,  but  we  are  looking  at  the  statues. 

And,  much  of  the  time,  Malraux  is  looking  with 
us;  but  a  historian,  a  critic,  cannot  always  stand  idly 
looking  and  feeling,  but  must  explain  things.  While 
he  explains  them  gently  and  consideringly,  with  tact 
and  insight  and  forbearance— explains  them  par- 
tially, only  partially — then  we  may  see  them  as  we 
have  never  seen  them  before,  but  as  he  has.  Often 
Malraux  does  this — with  Latour,  for  instance — but 
often  he  is  a  rough  explainer.  A  little  of  Rheims 
fits  into  his  ideological  scheme  perfectly,  as  the 
climax  of  Gothic  art;  the  specific  qualities  of 
Bamberg  and  Naumburg  do  not,  so  that  in  spite  of 

Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg 


liking  them  so  much  that  he  refers  to  them  again 
and  again,  he  *  'filters' '  them  out  of  his  main  argu- 
ment, and  regards  them  as  belated  survivals  of  an 
earlier  stage  of  Gothic  development.  Similarly,  he 
says  about  Vermeer  (and  he  writes  with  a  wonder- 
ful feeling  for  the  depth  and  poetry  of  a  painter  so 
often  called  "limited"  or  a  "jeweler")  that  "the 
depiction  of  a  world  devoid  of  value  can  be  mag- 
nificently justified  by  an  artist  who  treats  painting 
itself  as  the  supreme  value."  He  goes  on  to  say  about 
his  favorite  Vermeer,  The  Love  Letter:  "The  letter 
has  no  importance,  and  the  woman  none.  Nor  has 
the  world  in  which  letters  are  delivered;  all  has  been 
transmuted  into  painting."  If  the  picture  had  been 
called  The  Visitation,  how  willingly  Malraux 
would  have  accepted  the  importance  of  the  visit, 
of  the  woman,  and  of  the  world  in  which  visits  are 
made!  (One  feels  like  saying:  Vermeer's  canvases 
are  as  full  of  values  as  is  Spinoza's  Ethics;  they 
might  even  be  used  as  illustrations  for  it.)  But  Mal- 
raux is  quite  sensitive  to  religious  and  quasi-religious 
values,  quite  insensitive  to  others;  the  sciences,  for 
him,  are  not  much  more  than  what  has  produced 
television-sets  and  the  atomic  bomb.  The  quieter 
personal  and  domestic  values — what  St.  Jerome 
felt  for  his  lion  instead  of  what  he  felt  for  his  church 
— hardly  exist  for  Malraux;  his  mind  is  large  and 
public.  Someone  said  that  in  the  ideal  dictatorship 
everything  would  be  either  forbidden  or  obliga- 
tory; in  Malraux's  world  everything  is  either  heroic, 
ignoble,  or  irrelevant.  The  world  itself,  for  Mai- 

j  g  ^  Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg 

raux,  has  become  a  kind  of  rhetoric.  Any  religion 
attracts  him  as  a  work  of  art,  a  source  of  style,  an 
incarnation  of  values,  and  yet  you  can  hardly  im- 
agine his  believing  in  one — in  one.  You  can  say  of 
him  what  you  can  say  of  any  true  rhetorician:  that 
rhetoric  frees  us  from  all  claims  except  its  own. 

The  Voices  of  Silence,  if  it  had  a  denotative  in- 
stead of  a  connotative  title,  might  be  called  Reli- 
gious, Anti-Religious,  and  Proto-Religious  Art. 
Malraux  detests  "the  incapacity  of  modern  civiliza- 
tion for  giving  form  to  its  spiritual  values,"  and 
says  in  a  beautiful  and  heartfelt  sentence:  "On  the 
whole  face  of  the  globe  the  civilization  that  has 
conquered  it  has  failed  to  build  a  temple  or  a  tomb." 
He  goes  on:  "Agnosticism  is  no  new  thing:  what 
is  new  is  an  agnostic  culture.  Whether  Cesare  Bor- 
gia believed  in  God  or  not,  he  reverently  bore  the 
sacred  relics,  and,  while  he  was  blaspheming  among 
his  boon  companions,  St.  Peter's  was  being  built." 
Whether  he  believes  in  God  or  not,  Malraux  pas- 
sionately believes  in  the  necessity  of  a  culture's  be- 
lieving, and  he  reverently  bears  into  the  only  church 
any  longer  possible  to  us,  the  Museum  without 
Walls,  the  sacred  relics  of  the  religious  arts  of  the 

Malraux  feels  that  European  painting  first  em- 
bodied religious  values,  next  embodied  poetic  and 
humanistic  values,  and  finally  rejected  "all  values 
that  are  not  purely  those  of  painting."  Just  as  re- 
ligious art  distorted  Nature  into  forms  that  would 
express  the  values  of  religion,  so  modern  painting 

Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg  j  g  y 

distorts  it  into  forms  that  will  express  the  values  of 
painting:  "the  quality  modern  art  has  in  common 
with  the  sacred  arts,"  Malraux  writes,  "is  not  that, 
like  them,  it  has  any  transcendental  significance,  but 
that,  like  them,  it  sponsors  only  such  forms  as  are 
discrepant  from  visual  experience  .  .  .  Our  style 
is  based  on  a  conviction  that  the  only  world  which 
matters  is  other  than  the  world  of  appearances." 
One  might  suppose  that  in  the  long  run  "the  world 
of  appearances"  would  have  to  matter  to  that  crea- 
tor of  a  new  world  of  appearances  the  painter.  But 
Malraux  despises  the  arts  of  "illusionist  realism," 
of  "delectation."  "When  I  hear  the  word  Nature," 
Malraux  might  say,  "I  reach  for  my  revolver."  In 
his  scheme  of  things  there  are  earlier  artists  and 
their  schemata,  the  new  artist  and  his  schema,  and 
far  back  in  the  corner  under  a  dunce's  stool,  cow- 
ering dully,  a  dwarfed  Mongoloid,  Nature.  It  is  al- 
most out  of  the  picture;  and  yet  Malraux  is  uneasy 
at  having  it  there,  he  wants  it  all  the  way  out. 

The  artist  and  Nature,  as  Malraux  conceives 
them,  are  almost  exactly  like  Henry  James  and  that 
innocent  bystander  who  gives  James  the  germ  of 
one  of  his  stories.  "Just  outside  Rye  the  other  day," 
the  man  begins,  "I  met  a — "  "Stop!  stop!"  cries 
James.  "Not  a  word  more  or  you'll  spoil  it!"  Most 
of  the  European  artists  Malraux  writes  about  had 
a  neurotic,  life-long  compulsion  to  look  at  things: 
they  made  studies,  made  sketches,  made  dissections, 
paid  models,  hired  maids  because  of  the  way  the 
maids'  skin  took  the  light;  some  of  them  lived  half 

go  Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg 

their  lives  in  the  middle  of  the  landscape,  getting  red 
and  wrinkled  with  its  suns,  getting  pneumonia  from 
its  rains — so  that  an  unsympathetic  observer  can 
say  of  their  style  what  Malraux  says  of  Corot's, 
that  it  "tells  of  a  long  conflict  with  Nature  (which 
he  was  apt  to  confound  with  the  pleasure  of  visits 
to  the  country)."  Nature  had  their  deluded,  heart- 
felt tributes,  their  "assertions  that  they  were  her 
faithful  servants."  "Certain  masters,"  Malraux  ob- 
serves, "even  claimed  that  this  submission  con- 
tributed to  their  talent."  Some  loved  to  say  that 
Nature  had  been  their  master. 

When  they  say  this  Malraux  of  course  realizes 
that  this  is  not  what  they  meant;  he  knows  that 
he  wouldn't  let  a  thing  like  Nature  be  his  master. 
(Actually  Malraux  wouldn't  let  anything  be  his 
master:  his  motto  is  Vici,  vici,  vici.)  He  explains 
what  they  did  mean:  "When  Goya  mentioned  Na- 
ture as  being  one  of  his  three  masters  he  obviously 
meant,  'Details  I  have  observed  supply  their  accents 
to  ensembles  I  conjure  up  in  my  imagination.' ' 
Obviously.  "When  Delacroix  spoke  of  Nature  as  a 
dictionary  he  meant  that  her  elements  were  inco- 
herent." What  they  said  either  meant  something 
else,  or  they  didn't  mean  what  they  said,  or  they 
meant  what  they  said  but  just  didn't  know:  "No 
great  painter,"  Malraux  concludes,  "has  ever 
talked  as  we  would  like  him  to  talk."  When  van 
Gogh  made  a  painting  of  a  chair  that  almost  pushes 
the  chair  in  your  face,  that  says  like  a  child:  Look, 
there's  my  chair! — at  that  moment,  Malraux  writes, 

Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg  j  gg 

"the  conflict  between  the  artist  and  the  outside 
world,  after  smoldering  for  so  long,  had  flared  up 
at  last."  Malraux  singularly,  uniquely,  inimitably 
sees  that  in  this  picture  van  Gogh  had  declared  war 
on  the  chair.  But  what  puzzles  Malraux  is:  why  did 
he,  why  did  they  all,  wait  so  long  to  declare  it?  If 
only — 

"Chardin's  Housewife"  writes  Malraux,  "might 
be  a  first-class  Braque  dressed-up  enough  to  take 
in  the  spectator."  "Corot,"  writes  Malraux,  "makes 
of  the  landscape  a  radiant  still  life;  his  Narni  Bridge, 
Lake  of  Garda,  and  Woman  in  Fink  are,  like  the 
Housewife,  dressed-up  Braques."  If  only  Chardin 
and  Corot  had  undressed  their  Braques!  If  only 
Chardin  had  got  rid  of  that  housewife,  Corot  of  that 
landscape,  the  world  would  have  had  two  more 
Braques,  1760  and  1840  would  have  been  1920,  and 
Malraux  wouldn't  be  having  to  persuade  us  to  pay 
no  attention  to  what  Chardin  and  Corot  said  about 
Nature.  (Somehow  it  never  seems  to  occur  to  him 
to  call  Piero  della  Francesca's  Resurrection  a 
dressed-up  Cezanne,  and  to  imply  that  if  Piero  had 
only  got  rid  of  Christ  and  those  soldiers  he  would 
have  had  a  first-class  Cezanne:  religion  matters.) 
Malraux  spends  so  much  time  persuading  his  read- 
ers that  art  isn't  a  photographic  imitation  of  Nature 
that  it  gives  portions  of  his  book  a  curiously  old- 
fashioned  look — he  needs  to  persuade  most  of  his 
readers,  today,  that  art  has  any  relation  to  Nature. 

Of  the  quasi-aesthetic  organization  of  visual  per- 
ception itself — an  organization  that  is  at  the  root  of 

Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg 

aesthetic  organization — Malraux  is  ignorant;  for 
him  Koffka,  Kohler,  Gombrich,  and  the  rest 
might  never  have  existed.  He  understands  "the 
world  of  appearances,"  our  perception  of  Nature, 
only  as  a  kind  of  literal  photograph  of  formless  raw 
material — raw  material  that  demands  the  immedi- 
ate transformation,  the  supernatural  distortion,  of  a 
religious,  transcendental  art.  (An  old  sexual  meta- 
phor underlies  Malraux's  view  of  aesthetic  creation: 
a  masculine  Art  forms  and  conquers  a  helpless, 
formless,  feminine  Nature.)  Malraux  is  willing  to 
accept  a  modern  art  that  no  longer  embodies  re- 
ligious values,  if  it  rejects  "the  world  of  appear- 
ances," is  "discrepant  from  visual  experience."  Yet 
his  acceptance  is  the  provisional  acceptance  we  give 
to  something  that  is  only  a  transitional  stage;  "akin 
to  all  styles  that  express  the  transcendental  and  un- 
like all  others,  our  style  seems  to  belong  to  some 
religion  of  which  it  is  unaware,"  "is  nearing  its 
end,"  "cannot  survive  its  victory  intact."  Our  cul- 
ture "will  certainly  transform  modern  art";  after 
having  "conquered  and  annexed"  the  religious  and 
transcendental  arts  of  the  past,  it  will  see  its  own 
art  become  a  new  religious  and  transcendental  art 
of  a  nature  we  cannot  now  fathom:  "whether  we 
desire  it  or  not,  Western  man  will  light  his  path 
only,  by  the  torch  he  carries,  even  if  it  burns  his 
hands,  and  what  that  torch  is  seeking  to  throw  light 
on  is  everything  that  can  enhance  the  power  of 
man."  (The  disadvantages  of  so  oratorical  a  style 
of  understanding  as  Malraux's  are  terribly  apparent 

Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg  I  ^  I 

in  the  last  sentence.)  Malraux  adores  power,  and  is 
willing  to  accept  the  understanding  that  sometimes 
goes  along  with  power,  if  that  power  and  that  un- 
derstanding are  personal,  aesthetic,  religious;  when 
they  are  the  impersonal  power  and  understanding 
of  science,  that  conquers  in  the  long  run  by  being 
submissive  and  observant  in  the  short  run,  by  first 
imagining  and  then  seeing  whether  the  fact  fits, 
Malraux  has  no  interest  in  them. 

Reality  is  what  we  want  it  to  be  or  what  we  do 
not  want  it  to  be,  but  it  is  not  our  wanting  or  our 
not  wanting  that  makes  it  so.  Yet  with  sufficient 
mastery  the  critic  can  have  reality  almost  what 
he  wants  it — and  Malraux's  temperament  is  very 
masterful.  (The  last  time  I  read  The  Voices  of  Si- 
lence I  thought  longingly  of  the  submissiveness  of 
Sir  Kenneth  Clark's  The  Nude — just  as,  the  last 
time  I  heard  Parsifal,  I  couldn't  help  thinking  of 
Falstaff.)  The  soldier  Descartes  philosophized 
while  at  war,  in  quiet  winter  quarters;  Malraux  has 
to  philosophize  in  the  midst  of  a  war  which  he  him- 
self is  staging,  a  war  that  rages  through  every  sea- 
son. That  Malraux's  is  a  book  of  "tremendous  philo- 
sophical and  moral  importance" — Edmund  Wilson 
says  so — I  cannot  believe.  How  could  such  a  book 
have  the  facility — of  thought,  feeling,  and  expres- 
sion— that  this  book  so  often  has?  Yet  it  is  a  book 
that  shows  better  than  any  but  a  few  others  what 
art  has  been  to  man.  Often  Malraux  writes  as  well 
about  some  painter  or  sculptor,  some  style  or  influ- 
ence, some  metamorphosis  in  taste,  as  anyone  I  have 

j  q  2  Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg 

read,  and  his  intelligence,  his  dramatic  imagination, 
his  passionate  absorption,  the  sheer  liveness  of  his 
experience  and  knowledge  are  extraordinary;  if  he 
is  an  intermittent  trial,  he  is  a  continual  delight.  His 
virtues  are  so  dazzlingly  apparent  that  one  writes 
at  exaggerated  length  about  his  faults;  but  his  book 
is  a  work  of  art,  and  we  judge  it  as  we  judge  a  work 
of  art:  by  its  strengths. 

What  is  worst  about  it,  as  a  work  of  art,  is  the 
way  in  which  some  of  it  is  written.  It  has  thousands 
of  arresting  or  moving  or  conclusive  or  exactly 
realizing  sentences,  and  hundreds  of  sentences  that 
are  coarsely,  theatrically,  and  conventionally  rhe- 
torical. One  cannot  do  justice  to  Malraux's  good 
writing,  since  there  is  so  much  of  it,  but  one  can 
certainly  do  justice  to  the  bad.  "The  Oriental  night 
of  blood  and  doom-fraught  stars"  is  the  phrase  he 
finds  for  Byzantium;  he  calls  the  world  of  primi- 
tive artists  "a  nether  world  of  blood,  and  fate- 
fraught  stars";  he  writes  that  "neither  blood,  nor 
the  dark  lures  of  the  underworld,  nor  the  menaces 
of  doom-fraught  stars  have  at  all  times  prevailed 
against  that  soaring  hope  which  enabled  human  in- 
spiration, winged  with  love,  to  confront  the  pal- 
pitating vastness  of  the  nebulae  with  the  puny  yet 
indomitable  forms  of  Galilean  fishermen  or  the 
shepherds  of  Arcadia."  Who  would  have  thought 
those  old  stars  had  so  much  doom  in  them?  Mal- 
raux says  about  the  Dutch:  "We  tend  to  overlook 
that  glorious  page  of  Dutch  history,  and  even  today 
you  will  hear  people  talking,  as  of  quaint  figures  in 

Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg  193 

picture-postcards,  of  a  nation  that  put  up  a  stout 
resistance  to  Hitler's  hordes,  and  has  led  the  world 
in  postwar  reconstruction."  This  is  the  lingua- 
franca  of  vice-presidents  and  major-generals,  the 
tongue  in  which  the  Dean  talks  to  the  pompier,  and 
needs  no  translator.  Malraux  even  ends  his  book,  his 
beautiful  book,  with  this  sentence:  "And  that  hand 
whose  waverings  in  the  gloom  are  watched  by  ages 
immemorial  is  vibrant  with  one  of  the  loftiest  of  the 
secret  yet  compelling  testimonies  to  the  power  and 
glory  of  being  Man."  Imagine — I  won't  say  Rilke's 
— imagine  Degas'  face  as  he  read  such  a  sentence! 
As  for  another  author,  the  man  who  wrote  La 
Condition  Humaine;  the  man  who  writes  about  the 
first  "retrograde"  art:  "Thereafter  Byzantium 
reigned  alone.  The  age  which  was  discovering  the 
sublimity  of  tears  showed  not  a  weeping  face,"  and 
who  goes  on:  "As  much  genius  was  needed  to 
obliterate  man  at  Byzantium  as  to  discover  him  on 
the  Acropolis";  the  man  who  tells  how  the  yielding 
feminine  smile  of  the  Greek  statues  was  changed 
by  the  Asiatic  sculptors  into  "something  sterner, 
hewn  in  the  cliff  side:  the  lonely  smile  of  the  men 
of  silence";  who  says  of  Botticelli's  figures  that 
"knots  of  fine-spun  lines  enwrap  their  shining 
smoothness";  who  writes  about  the  end  of  the  Mid- 
dle Ages  and  the  beginning  of  the  Renaissance: 
"To  restore  to  life  that  slumbering  populace  of 
ancient  statues,  all  that  was  required  was  the  dawn 
of  the  first  smile  upon  the  first  mediaeval  figure," 
ends  his  chapter  there,  and  begins  the  next:  "How 

j  Q4  Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg 

very  timid  was  that  smile!" — as  for  the  man  who 
wrote  these  sentences,  how  does  he  feel  about  the 
man  who  wrote  the  others?  We  are  almost  willing 
to  use  the  terms  of  Malraux's  effective  and  mislead- 
ing distinction  between  Michelangelo  and  Signor 
Buonarroti,  Paul  Cezanne  and  Monsieur  Cezanne, 
and  to  say  that  it  is  Andre  Malraux  who  is  responsi- 
ble for  the  grandeur  of  some  of  these  sentences,  and 
Monsieur  Malraux,  the  well-known  politician  and 
man  of  action,  who  is  responsible  for  the  vulgar 
grandiosity  of  the  others.  But  if  we  said  so  we 
should  be  making  Malraux's  mistake:  it  is  the  same 
man  who  is  responsible  for  both,  and  it  is  our  task 
to  understand  how  this  is  possible.  When  we  read 
what  Goethe  says  about  men  we  are  ashamed  of 
what  we  have  said;  when  we  read  what  he  says 
about  paintings  and  statues  we  are  ashamed  of  what 
Goethe  has  said.  It  is  one  of  the  merits  of  Malraux's 
book  that  it  shows,  perhaps  more  forcibly  and  viva- 
ciously than  any  other,  why  it  is  historically  possible 
for  us  to  feel  this;  or  to  feel  as  we  feel  when  we 
read,  in  Berenson,  that  Uccello  "in  his  zeal  forgot 
local  color — he  loved  to  paint  his  horses  pink  and 
green — forgot  action,  forgot  composition,  and,  it 
need  scarcely  be  added,  significance."  A  few  pages 
later  we  read  about  a  painter,  more  to  be  despised 
than  pitied,  who  made  "the  great  refusal,"  and 
who  degenerated  until  "at  his  worst  he  hardly  sur- 
passes the  elder  Breughel."  I  suppose  I  ought  to  say 
that  it  is  only  our  taste  these  judgments  appal,  that 
after  a  while  the  wheel  will  have  come  full  circle, 

Malraux  and  the  Statues  at  Bamberg  i 9  5 

and  another  age  will  smile  at  Malraux's  judgments 
of  Uccello  and  Breughel,  nod  approvingly  at 
Berenson's  .  .  .  Well,  unhappy  the  age  that  does 
so!  May  it  be  further  accursed! 

I  have  talked  of  the  faults  or  exaggerations  of 
The  Voices  of  Silence  far  too  much  for  justice,  so 
let  me  say  that  I  have  worn  into  sections  the  un- 
bound copy  I  first  owned  and  wrote  about,  and  can- 
not look  at  my  bound  copy  without  a  surge  of 
warmth  and  delight:  if  I  knew  a  monk  I  would  get 
him  to  illuminate  it.  Who  has  ever  picked  illustra- 
tions like  Malraux?  He  has  worked  hard  rewriting 
the  old  version  of  the  book:  has  changed,  added, 
omitted,  rearranged,  more  than  one  would  have 
thought  possible;  since  the  phrasing  has  been  im- 
proved and  since  the  blank  spaces  that  gave  the  old 
version  a  somewhat  disjointed,  aphoristic  look  have 
been  done  away  with,  it  now  has  more  of  a  Spen- 
glerian  weight  and  continuity,  and  less  of  the  I-am- 
just-thinking-for-you  air  that  the  first  version  oc- 
casionally had — and  had  attractively,  I  thought. 
Malraux  still  thinks  that  famous  Scythian  deer,  ant- 
lered  from  nose  to  tail,  a  horse,  and  prints  it  op- 
posite Degas'  for  comparison;  and  he  still  believes 
that  Schumann  composed  to  the  smell  of  rotten  ap- 
ples, but  that  you  can't  smell  them  in  his  music. 
Poor  Schiller!  I'd  as  soon  see  Eve,  Newton,  and 
Gregor  Samsa  deprived  of  their  apples. 

A  Wilderness  of  Ladies 


u  c  k   Duke   says  to  Mamma,  as  he  brings 
her  the  milk-pail  full  of  wild  plums: 

"Sour!  Your  eyes' 11  water,  Miss  Tempe! 
But  sweet,  tooP 

The  taste  of  someone  else's  life — and  while  you  are 
reading  the  poems  of  Eleanor  Taylor  you  are 
someone  else — is  almost  too  sour  to  be  borne;  but 
sweet,  too.  The  life  is  that  of  one  woman,  one  (as 
the  census  would  say)  housewife;  but  a  family  and 
section  and  century  are  part  of  it,  so  that  the  poems 
have  the  "weight  and  power,/  Power  growing  un- 
der weight"  of  a  world.  Some  of  this  world  is  gro- 
tesquely and  matter-of-factly  funny,  some  of  it  is 
tragic  or  insanely  awful — unbearable,  one  would 
say,  except  that  it  is  being  borne.  But  all  of  it  is  so, 
seen  as  no  one  else  could  see  it,  told  as  no  one  else 
could  tell  it. 

The  poems  and  poet  come  out  of  the  Puritan 
South.  This  Scotch  Presbyterianism  translated  into 
the  wilderness  is,  for  her,  only  the  fierce  shell  of  its 


A  Wilderness  of  Ladies 


old  self,  but  it  is  as  forbidding  and  compulsive  as 
ever:  the  spirit  still  makes  its  unforgiving  demands 
on  a  flesh  that  is  already  too  weak  to  have  much 
chance  in  the  struggle.  The  things  of  this  world 
are  "what  Ma  called  poison  lilies,  sprouting/  From 
Back  Bunn's  meadow  resurrectionwise/  But  with 
a  sinful  pink  stain  at  the  throat."  So  much,  still,  is 
sin!  Blaming  the  declining  West,  a  character  in  one 
of  the  poems  says  hotly:  "You  talk  so  much  of 
rights,  now;/  You  ask  so  seldom  what  your  duties 
are!"  The  poet  knows  too  well  for  asking  what  her 
duties  are,  and  has  no  rights  except  the  right  to  do 
right  and  resent  it:  her  "Lord,  help  me  to  be  more 
humble  in  this  world!"  is  followed  without  a  pause 
by  the  exultant  "In  that  Great,  Getting-Up  Morn- 
ing, there  will  be  another  song!"  She  cannot  permit 
herself — the  whole  life  she  has  inherited  will  not 
permit  her — to  be  happy,  innocently  bad,  free  of 
these  endless  demands,  this  continual  self-condem- 
nation. Frost  speaks  of  a  world  where  work  is  "play 
for  mortal  stakes,"  but  here  everything  is  work 
for  mortal  stakes,  and  harder  because  of  the 
memory  of  play,  now  that  nothing  is  play.  (I  once 
heard  a  woman  say  about  buying  new  clothes  for 
a  trip  to  Europe:  "It's  work,  Mary,  it's  work!"— 
a  very  Protestant  and  very  ethical  sentence.) 

First  there  were  her  own  family's  demands  on 
the  girl,  and  now  there  are  the  second  family's  de- 
mands on  the  woman;  and  worst  of  all,  hardest  of 
all,  are  the  woman's  demands  on  herself — so  that 
sometimes  she  longs  to  be  able  to  return  to  the  de- 

I  q8  A  Wilderness  of  Ladies 

mands  of  the  first  family,  when  the  immediate 
world  was  at  least  childish  and  natural,  and  one  still 
had  child  allies  in  the  war  against  the  grown-ups. 
Now  the  family  inside — the  conscience,  the  su- 
perego— is  a  separate,  condemning  self  from  which 
there  is  no  escape  except  in  suicide  or  fantasies  of 
suicide,  the  dark  rushing  not-I  into  which  the  I  van- 
ishes. And  which,  really,  is  the  I?  The  demanding 
conscience,  or  the  part  that  tries  to  meet — tries, 
even,  to  escape  from — its  demands?  In  one  poem 
the  chain  gang  guard  envies  the  prisoner  who  still 
needs  a  guard,  who  cannot  escape  because  of  the 
rifle  outside,  the  guard  outside;  the  guard  himself 
no  longer  has  to  be  guarded,  says  in  despairing 
mockery:  "Here  I  stand!  loaded  gun  across  me — / 
As  if  I'd  get  away! "  The  world  is  a  cage  for  women, 
and  inside  it  the  woman  is  her  own  cage.  In  longing 
regression,  this  divided  self — "riding  the  trolley 
homeward  this  afternoon/  With  the  errands  in 
my  lap" — would  willingly  have  let  it  all  slide  from 
her  lap,  would  willingly  have  "disfestooned  my 
world — /  A  husband,  more  or  less!/  A  family, 
more  or  less!/  To  have  alighted  to  a  cup  of  kettle- 
tea/  And  someone/  To  whom  I  could  lie  mer- 
rily,/ Use  malapropisms,  be  out-of-taste";  to  the 
sister  who  is  "more  than  one-flesh-and-blood,/  Al- 
most another  I."  The  self,  two  now,  longs  for  that 
first  world  in  which  it  and  another  were,  almost, 
one;  longs  to  return  to  the  make-believe  tea  that 
preceded  the  real  tea  of  the  grown-ups,  the  tea  that, 
drunk,  makes  one  a  wife  and  mother. 

A  Wilderness  of  Ladies  I  pp 

The  world  of  the  poems  is  as  dualistic  as  that  of 
Freud;  everything  splits,  necessarily,  into  two  war- 
ring opposites.  This  fault  along  which  life  divides, 
along  which  the  earthquakes  of  existence  occur,  is 
for  the  poet  primal.  It  underlies  all  the  gaps,  dispari- 
ties, cleavages,  discontinuities  that  run  right  through 
her;  she  could  say  with  Emerson:  "There  is  a  crack 
in  everything  that  God  has  made."  She  says  about 
her  sister  and  herself:  "The  wars  of  marriage  and 
the  family  burst  around  us";  but  these  are  only  ex- 
ternal duplicates  of  the  war  inside,  the  war  of  self 
and  self.  Life  is  a  state  of  siege,  of  desperate  meas- 
ures, forlorn  hopes,  last  extremities — is  war  to  the 
last  woman.  Carried  far  enough,  everything  reduces 
to  a  desperate  absurdity;  one  can  say  about  the 
poems  themselves  what  one  of  the  poems  says 
about  a  man:  "You  were  a  mortal  sheen/  Flicker- 
ing from  the  negative."  The  poems'  Religious  Wars, 
wars  of  conscience,  go  over  into  wars  of  anxiety 
and  anguish,  of  neurosis  or  psychosis:  "For  me  the 
expected  step  sinks,/  The  expected  light  winks/ 
Out  ..."  The  water  of  sexuality,  of  unknown  ex- 
perience, that  the  child  shrank  from  and  that  the 
woman  longs  to  drown  in,  freezes  into  glass,  gems, 
the  hard  "stock-dead"  fixity  of  catatonia: 

Oh  to  have  turned  at  the  landing 

And  never  have  sounded  the  bell 

That  somehow  thrust  me  into  this  room 

Beaded  voith  eyes,  painfully  held 

To  the  liable  frame  I  illume. 

Could  life  stop,  or  go  on! 

2  qq  A  Wilderness  of  Ladies 

But  olives  dangle  crystal  stems, 
And  that  clock  muffles  its  French  tick 
In  those  elaborate  kiss-me-knots; 
Does  it,  too,  hate  its  gems? 

In  frigid  aberration,  she  spoils  the  life  she  ought  to 
nourish:  "Each  year  I  dug  and  moved  the  peonies/ 
Longing  to  flare/  Fat  and  chemically  by  the  well- 
slab,/  Ingrown./  Each  day  I  opened  the  drawer 
and/  Scanned  the  knives."  And  the  warped  spirit 
(after  it  has  desperately  demanded,  from  outside, 
the  miracle  that  alone  could  save  it:  "You  should 
have  struck  a  light/  In  the  dark  I  was,  and/  Said, 
Read,  Be — be  over!")  ends  in  an  awful  negative 
apotheosis,  as  it  cries:  "Not  in  the  day  time,  not  in 
the  dark  time/  Will  my  voice  cut  and  my  poison 
puff/  My  treasures  of  flesh,/  My  gems  of  flash- 
ing translucent  spirit,/  Nor  my  caress  shatter 
them."  When  in  another  poem  a  patient  says:  "It 
nettled  me  to  have  them  touch  my  dog/  And  say 
in  their  dispelling  voices,  Dog,"  the  helpless,  fretful, 
loving-its-own-psychosis  voice  of  the  psychotic  is 
so  human  that  your  heart  goes  out  to  it,  and  can 
neither  pigeonhole  it  nor  explain  it  away. 

The  violent  emotion  of  so  much  of  the  poetry 
would  be  intolerable  except  for  the  calm  matter-of- 
f  actness,  the  seriousness  and  plain  truth,  of  so  much 
else;  and  except  for  the  fact  that  this  despairing  ex- 
tremity is  resisted  by  her,  forced  from  her,  instead 
of  being  exaggerated  for  effect,  depended  on  as 
rhetoric,  welcomed  for  its  own  sake,  as  it  is  in  that 
existential,  beatnik  Grand  Guignol  that  is  endemic 

A  Wilderness  of  Ladies 


in  our  age.  And,  too,  there  is  so  much  that  is  funny 
or  touching,  there  are  so  many  of  the  homely,  natu- 
ral beauties  known  only  to  someone  "who  used  to 
notice  such  things."  How  much  of  the  old  America 
is  alive  in  lines  like  "She  took  a  galloping  consump- 
tion/ After  she  let  the  baby  catch  on  fire  .  .  ./ 
And  Cousin  Mazeppa  took  laudanum./  'Why  did 
you  do  it,  Zeppie  girl?/  Wa'n't  Daddy  good  to 
you?V  Tray,  let  me  sleep!' "  Byron  and  Liszt  and 
Modjeska  end  at  this  country  crossroads,  in  a  name. 
How  could  old-maidly,  maiden-ladyish  refinement 
be  embodied  more  succinctly,  funnily,  and  finally 
than  in: 

Miss  Bine  taught  one  to  violet  the  wrists. 

"J  accuse  you,  Mr.  Stapleton, 

Of  excess  temperance — ha  ha/" 

11  Miss  Tempe  .  .  .  I  beg  .  .  .  Allow  me  to  insist — /" 

The  old  woman,  dying  among  images,  sees  out  on 
the  dark  river  of  death,  past  Cluster  Rocks,  "an  old 
lady  her  uncles  rowed  across — /  The  boat  beneath 
her  slipped  the  bank/  Just  as  she  stepped  ashore./ 
'Stretched  me  arightsmart,'  she  chirped./  O  to 
think  of  that  dying!/  O  unworthy  'Stretchedmea- 
rightsmart'!/  She  glared  at  hell  through  tears." 
This  country  humor,  which  comes  out  of  a  natural 
knowledge  like  that  of  Hardy  or  Faulkner,  can 
change  into  a  gallows-humor  that  once  or  twice  has 
the  exact  sound  and  feel  of  Corbiere:  the  suicide  on 
her  way  into  the  water  mutters,  "It's  no  good  God's 
whistling,  'Come  back,  Fido' ";  the  cold  benighted 
lovers  flee  down  the  blocked-off  "last  bat-out-of- 

202  ^  Wilderness  of  Ladies 

hell  roads:/  Closed,  Under  Destruction"  But  these 
and  other  humors — the  humors  of  dreams,  of  neu- 
rosis, of  prosaic  actuality — all  come  together  in  a 
kind  of  personal,  reckless  charm,  an  absolute  indi- 
viduality, that  make  one  remember  Goethe's  "In 
every  artist  there  is  a  germ  of  recklessness  without 
which  talent  is  inconceivable." 

In  the  beginning  there  were  no  ladies  in  the  wil- 
derness, only  squaws.  These  were  replaced,  some 
generations  ago,  by  beings  who  once,  in  another 
life,  were  ladies;  once  were  Europeans.  To  these 
lady-like  women  in  the  wilderness  there  is  some- 
thing precious  and  unnatural  about  lady-likeness, 
about  the  cultivated  European  rose  grafted  upon 
the  wild  American  stem.  But  "pretense  had  always 
been  their  aim,"  even  when  in  childhood  they  had 
played  house,  played  grown-up.  Their  conscious  fe- 
male end  is  that  genteel,  cultured,  feminist  old- 
maidishness  that — intact,  thorny,  precisely  self-con- 
tained— rises  above  the  masculine,  disreputable 
economic  and  sexual  necessity  that  reaches  out  to 
strip  off  their  blossoms,  that  makes  you  "dish  pota- 
toes up  three  times  a  day,/  And  put  your  wedding 
dress  into  a  quilt,"  that  turns  young  ladies  into  old 
women.  This  Victorian  old-maidish  culture  has  its 
continuation  in  the  House  Beautiful,  Vogue-ish. 
sophistication  that  the  poet  calls  "our  exotic  prop- 
erties, our  pretty  price./  The  garden  radish  lies  on 
ice,  the  radish  rose./  Smorgasbord!"  The  new 
dejeuner  sur  Vherbe  is  summed  up,  bitterly,  in  the 
old   terms,   the   plain,   religious,   country   terms: 

A  Wilderness  of  Ladies  2  O  3 

"Dinner  on  the  grounds!  and  the  blessing  still  un- 
said .  .  ."  The  poet  looks  askance  at  this  acquired 
surface,  even  in  herself — especially  in  herself,  since 
it  belongs  neither  to  her  wild  heart  nor  to  her  neo- 
Calvinist  conscience.  To  her  there  is  something 
natural  and  endearing  about  the  crushing  wilder- 
ness, the  homely  childish  beauties  that  one  relaxes 
or  regresses  into.  It  is  the  ladies  who  really  are  bar- 
ren, so  that  one  might  say:  "You  make  a  desert  and 
call  her  a  lady";  and  in  what  is  perhaps  the  most 
beautiful  and  touching  of  all  these  poems,  Buck 
Duke  and  Mamma,  it  is  human  feeling,  natural  sex- 
uality, that  the  woman  at  last  accepts  in  grief,  and 
it  is  the  histrionic  feminine  gentility  that  she  rejects: 

He  came  bringing  us  a  milkpail  full 

Of  speckled,  wild,  goose  plums — 

All  fat  unsmelt-out  perfume dom — 

And  perched  on  the  back  porch  curb  to  taste  a  few. 

"Sour!  Your  eyes'' 11  water,  Miss  Tempe! 

But  sweet,  too." 

Mamma's  way  was  posing  by  the  silent  pool 

And  tossing  in  the  line  amiss 

That  shook  the  skies  of  the  other  world 

And  all  but  loosed  the  roots  of  this. 

She  trimmed  and  trained  the  roundabout  backwoods, 

Was  glad  that  Buck  Duke  had  a  devilish  eye; 

It  saved  an  orphan  from  dire  fortitude, 

And  saved  his  grandpa's  house  from  sanctity. 

"Your  Papa  doesn't  favor  your  going  there. 

I  say,  enter  evil  to  cure  evil,  if  you  darel" 

As  she  went  about  her  cast-off  household  chores 

She  overlooked  them  with  a  lavish  bow 

Inspired  by  that  heroine  of  poems, 

2  qa  A  Wilderness  of  Ladies 

Her  elocution  teacher,  Miss  Hattie  Yow. 
"Nothing  to  do?  In  this  world  of  ours? 
Where  weeds  spring  daily  amidst  sweet  flowers?" 

"Don't  drink  that  Mackling  Spring's  brack  water 

Whe'r  ifs  high  or  low. 

The  cows  stand  in  there  and  let  go" 

But  old  Duke's  beardy  words  were  moss  for  campflre 

When  they  took  their  kitchen  rations  to  the  woods. 

Mamma's  boys  looked  out  for  sassafras,  but  Buck 

Made  frog  gigs,  thrashed  Mackling  Springs  into  a  suds. 

("/  say,  dear  boys!  Be  good.  Take  care. 

But  learn  a  little  evil  if  you  dare.  .  .  .") 

His  thirst  once  drunk,  turned  drunken, 

And  Buck  Duke  tossed  all  night,  all  day, 

Made  rusty  speeches  on  old  swapping  knives, 

Called  names  that  paled  the  sallow-boned  herbwives, 

Tore  off  the  sleeping  clothes,  his  bed's,  his  own, 

And  never  seemed  to  wake. 

His  boyish  modesty  ran  dry, 

At  last  the  hands  cooled,  then  the  face. 

Mamma  stood  at  his  bedside. 

She  overlooked  him  with  a  sprightly  brow 

Inspired  by  that  gay  mistress  of  mad  poesy 

Her  elocution  teacher,  Miss  Hattie  Yow. 

"  ''Stop  stop  pretty  waters'  cried  Mary  one  day 
1 My  vessel,  my  flowers  you  carry  away.'  " 

Mamma  made  a  wreath  of  all  her  flowers: 

The  histrionic  garden  did  not  bear 

One  saucy  pose  when  she  put  down  the  scissors; 

The  battered  bees  hung  stupid  in  mid-air. 

She  worked  on  knees  and  elbows  on  the  back  porch, 

That  savage  zinnia  ornament  compiled, 

Then  all  at  once  cooped  up  her  face 

A  Wilderness  of  Ladies  2  O  5 

With  hands  like  bird's  wings — 

A  gesture,  she  knew,  would  have  made  Miss  Hattie 

If  these  poems  are  less  about  the  New  Woman 
than  about  the  Old  (surviving,  astonished,  into  this 
age  of  appliances  and  gracious  fun) ,  still,  no  poems 
can  tell  you  better  what  it  is  like  to  be  a  woman; 
none  come  more  naturally  out  of  a  woman's  ordi- 
nary existence,  take  both  their  subjects  and  their 
images  out  of  the  daily  and  nightly  texture  of  her 
life.  Many  of  these  are  what  I  think  of  as  wom- 
an's-work-is-never-done  images:  cooking,  sewing, 
ironing,  taking  care  of  children,  tending  the  sick, 
and  so  on;  but  these  pass,  by  way  of  gardening,  on 
over  into  the  lady-like  images  of  social  existence, 
distrusted  things  akin  to  all  the  images  of  glass,  mir- 
rors, gems,  of  coldness,  hardness,  and  dryness,  of 
two-ness,  cleavages,  opposites,  negatives,  of  trapped 
circular  motion,  that  express  a  range  of  being  from 
gentility  to  catatonia.  These  are  lightened,  colored, 
by  images  from  childhood  and  the  past — counting- 
out  rhymes,  hymns,  slave  songs,  and  so  on.  A  per- 
vading, obsessive  image  is  that  of  light  in  darkness: 
there  are  so  many  stars,  meteors,  flames,  snowflakes, 
feathers,  that  one  almost  feels  that  the  poems  them- 
selves can  be  summed  up  in  the  sentence  in  which 
the  dying  old  woman  sums  up  her  life:  "My  quick, 
half -lighted  shower,  are  you  gone?" 

Often  these  last  images  merge  with  the  ruling, 
final  image  of  the  poems,  that  of  water:  the  water 
of  experience  or  sexuality,  into  which  the  little  girl 

2  q^  A  Wilderness  of  Ladies 

is  afraid  to  wade;  the  river  the  dying  woman  re- 
members from  childhood  and  must  cross,  now,  into 
the  next  world;  life's  dark  star-bearing  flood 
trapped  in  the  mill  of  daily  duties,  of  reduced  me- 
chanical existence:  "The  water  pushes  the  mill 
wheel;/  The  wheel,  wheeling,  dispersing,/  Dis- 
perses the  starry  spectacle/  And  drags  the  stone" 
— trapped,  or  else  frozen  into  the  fixity  of  glass,  of 
mirrors,  of  the  hateful  gems  that  send  the  hands  on 
in  their  aimless  endless  circle.  Even  sexual  love  is 
seen  in  terms  of  water  freezing  into — or  melting 
among — the  "thin  floes,"  the  cold  clandestine  dark- 
ness of  a  country  night.  You  destroy  yourself,  es- 
cape from  yourself,  in  water:  in  Goodbye  Family, 
"under  the  foundations  of  God's  World/  Lilily/ 
Swimming  on  my  side"  until  at  last  "the  water/ 
Meeting  me  around  the  curve,  roaring,  blanks/ 
Out  all";  and  in  Escape,  as  "a  vein  of  time  gapes  for 
her  small  transfusion,"  she  or  her  double  disappears 
into  the  ocean  with  a  "far  white  crash  too  negligi- 
ble to  bear."  She  says  that  "art  and  death"  are  "both 
oceans  on  my  map" — the  map  of  the  Woman  as 
Artist,  woman  as  lover.  And  woman  ends,  man 
ends,  "lying  at  the  edge  of  the  water,"  face  in  the 
water;  "when  our  faces  are  swol  up/  We  will  look 
strange  to  them./  Nobody,  looking  out  the  door/ 
Will  think  to  call  us  in./  They'll  snap  their  fingers 
trying/  To  recollect  our  names";  the  rope  is  bro- 
ken, no  one  ever  again  will  draw  up  the  bucket 
bobbing  at  the  bottom  of  the  well  of  death: 

A  Wilderness  of  Ladies  2  07 

Oh  my  dearie, 

Our  childhoods  are  histories, 

Buckets  at  the  bottom  of  the  well, 

And  hard  to  tell 

Whether  they  will  hold  water  or  no. 

Did  Pa  die  before  we  were  married? 

No,  he  died  in  twenty -seven, 

But  I  remember  the  wedding 

Reminded  me  of  the  funeral — 

When  the  grandbabies  ask, 

Little  do  they  care, 

I  will  tell  them  about  the  man  I  found 

That  day  at  my  plowing  in  the  low-grounds 

Lying  at  the  edge  of  the  water. 

His  face  had  bathed  five  nights. 

A  dark  man,  a  foreigner,  like. 

They  never  found  his  kin  to  tell. 

Buckets,  buckets  at  the  bottom  of  the  well. 

It  was  in  the  paper  with  my  name. 

I  have  the  clipping  tells  all  about  it, 

If  your  Grandma  aint  thrown  it  out. 

Oh  my  dearie 

When  our  faces  are  swol  up 

We  will  look  strange  to  them. 

Nobody,  looking  out  the  door 

Will  think  to  call  us  in. 

They'll  snap  their  fingers  trying 

To  recollect  our  names. 

Five  nights,  five  bones,  five  buckets — 

Who'll  ever  hear  a  sound? 

Oh  my  dearie 

The  rope  broke 

The  bucket  bobs  around 

Oh  my  dearie 



2  08  d  Wilderness  of  Ladies 

In  the  poems  everything  goes  together,  everything 
has  several  reasons  for  being  what  it  is:  the  whole 
Wilderness  of  Ladies  is,  so  to  speak,  one  dream,  that 
expresses  with  extraordinary  fidelity  and  finality 
the  life  of  the  dreamer. 

Many  of  the  poems  show  (rather  as  the  end  of 
The  Old  Wives'  Tale  shows)  what  you  might  call 
human  entropy — life's  residual  reality,  what  is  so 
whatever  else  is  so.  That  life,  just  lived,  is  death; 
that  its  first  pure  rapturous  flame  grows  greater, 
fouls  itself,  diminishes,  struggles  and  goes  out:  the 
poems  say  it  with  terrible  magic: 

In  the  morning,  early, 

Birds  flew  over  the  stable, 

The  morning  glories  ringed  the  flapping  corn 

With  Saturn  faces  for  the  surly  light 

And  stars  hung  on  the  elder  night. 

But  soon  the  sun  is  gone,  the  stars  go  out  as  the  old 
woman's  eyes  close.  Life  is  a  short  process  soon 
over:  how  quickly  the  lyric,  girlish,  old-fashioned 
f unniness  of  My  Grandmother's  Virginhood,  1 870 
becomes  the  worn,  sad  grown-upness  of  Mother- 
hood, 1880! — the  girl's  kiss  so  soon  is  the  woman's 
sick  or  dying  baby,  her  eroded  featureless  "They 
know  I  favor  this  least  child." 

The  poems  are  full  of  personal  force,  personal 
truth — the  first  and  last  thing  a  reader  sees  in  a 
writer — down  to  the  least  piece  of  wording.  Their 
originality  is  so  entire,  yet  so  entirely  natural,  that 
it  seems  something  their  writer  deserves  no  credit 
for:  she  could  do  no  other.  Just  as  the  poems'  con- 

A  Wilderness  of  Ladies  2  09 

tent  ranges  from  pure  fact  to  pure  imagination,  so 
their  language  ranges  from  a  folk  speech  as  authen- 
tically delightful  as  Hardy's  or  Faulkner's  (though 
the  poet's  use  of  folk  material  reminds  me  even 
more  of  Janacek's  and  Bartok's)  to  a  poetic  style  so 
individual  that  you  ask  in  wonder:  How  can  any- 
thing be  so  queer  and  yet  so  matter-of-fact — natu- 
ral, really?  Picasso  has  said  that  when  you  find  the 
thing  yourself  it  is  always  ugly,  the  others  after 
you  can  make  it  beautiful.  Sometimes  this  is  true  of 
these  poems;  and  yet  sometimes  she  has  found  it 
beautiful,  or  has  made  it  into  a  marvel  you  don't  call 
either  beautiful  or  ugly — have  no  words  for: 

Was  it  forgiven?  It  was  gone, 

The  heathen  dancing 

With  her  giggling  sisters; 

They  flew  about  the  room 

In  seedstitch  weskits 

Like  eight  wax  dolls  gone  flaskwards. 

Those  were  gay  days! 

She  sighed  a  mournful  tune 

Waddling  about  her  everyday 

Affairs  of  life  and  death 

{Affairs  of  painful  life,  uncertain  death): 

"Wild  loneliness  that  beats 

Its  wings  on  life"  she  sang. 

She  thwacked  a  pone  in  two, 

Her  big  hand  for  a  knife. 

Thar!  stirring  it  severely, 

And  tharl  into  the  oven.  .  .  . 

There  is  plenty  of  detached  objective  observation 
in  the  poems,  but  usually  they  are  objective  in  an- 

2  i  o  A  Wilderness  of  Ladies 

other  sense:  they  are  so  much  the  direct  expression 
of  the  object  that  their  words  are  still  shaking  with 
it — are,  so  to  speak,  res  gestae,  words  that,  repeated, 
are  not  hearsay  evidence  but  part  of  the  fact  itself. 
The  poet  continually  makes  a  kind  of  inevitable  ex- 
clamation, has  wrenched  from  her  a  law  or  aphor- 
ism, a  summing-up,  that  is  at  the  same  time  an  ani- 
mal cry.  Sometimes  her  speech  is  the  last  speech 
before  speechless  desperation — too  low  to  be  heard 
as  sound,  only  felt  as  pain;  but  sometimes  it  is  like 
sunlight  on  fall  leaves,  firelight  on  cornbread. 
The  book  presents  as  they  have  never  been  pre- 
sented before — which  is  to  say,  as  every  true  artist 
has  presented  them — our  everyday  affairs  of  life 
and  death. 

Some  of  the  very  best  of  Eleanor  Taylor's 
poems,  I  think,  are  Buck  Duke  and  Mamma,  Song, 
Woman  as  Artist,  Moved,  Family  Bible  (especially 
Grandparents),  The  Bine  Yadkin  Rose,  and  Good- 
bye Family;  poems  like  Madame,  In  the  Church- 
yard, The  Chain  Gang  Guard,  and  Flaying  are 
slighter  or  smaller,  but  realized  past  change.  Read- 
ers who  are  well  acquainted  with  all  of  Wilderness 
of  Ladies  will  feel  an  impatient  disgust  at  me  for 
some  of  the  poems  I  haven't  named,  the  qualities  I 
haven't  mentioned.  And  all  the  poems  are  far  more 
than  the  best  poems:  the  pieces,  put  together,  are  a 

When  one  reads  poems  here  and  there,  in  maga- 
zines and  manuscript — as  I  first  read  these — it 
seems  very  unlikely  that  they  should  be  good  al- 

A  Wilderness  of  Ladies 

21 1 

most  as  Dickinson's  or  Hardy's  poems  are.  Of 
course  the  readers  who  first  saw  Dickinson's  and 
Hardy's  poems,  in  magazines  and  manuscripts, 
thought  it  just  as  unlikely  that  the  poems  should  be 
good  almost  as  Wordsworth's  were.  The  readers 
knew  what  the  poems  weren't,  what  the  poems 
couldn't  be;  and  because  of  this  it  was  hard  for 
them  to  see  what  the  poems  were.  An  introduction 
to  poems  like  those  in  Wilderness  of  Ladies  might 
make  it  easier  for  readers  to  consider  the  possibility 
of  the  poems'  being  what  they  are. 


1  'r 

Randall  Jarrell 

was  born  in  Nashville,  Tennessee  in  19 14 
and  graduated  from  Vanderbilt  University. 
He  now  lives  with  his  wife  and  two  daugh- 
ters in  Greensboro,  North  Carolina,  where 
he  is  Professor  of  English  at  the  Woman's 
College  of  the  University  of  North  Caro- 
lina. Mr.  Jarrell  has  also  taught  at  Sarah 
Lawrence  and  Kenyon  Colleges,  the  Uni- 
versities of  Texas,  Illinois,  Indiana  and  Cin- 
cinnati, and  at  Princeton  University.  At 
various  times  he  has  been  poetry  critic  of 
the  Nation,  Partisan  Review  and  The  Yale 
Review,  and  as  poet,  novelist  and  critic  his 
work  has  received  many  awards.  For  two 
years  he  was  Consultant  in  Poetry  at  the 
Library  of  Congress.  He  is  a  member  of  the 
National  Institute  of  Arts  and  Letters  and 
a  chancellor  of  The  Academy  of  American 
Poets.  His  books  include  six  volumes  of 
poems,  among  which  is  the  Selected  Poems 
(1955)  and  The  Woman  at  the  Washing- 
ton Xoo  (which  received  the  1961  National 
Book  Award  for  Poetry),  a  work  of  fiction 
(Pictures  from  an  Institution),  and  an  ear- 
lier book  of  essays,  Poetry  and  the  Age. 

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